Voice of Sport

Special Olympics; Kenya children with special needs require sport, exercise more than any other persons

Oshwal Academy Nairobi stage annual sports extravaganza on Saturday for children with disabilities, amid a call for more state and community support for similar institutions in every county throughout Kenya

AN annual sports festival of Special Olympics for young children in schools takes place at the Oswhwal Academy Nairobi in Westlands. This year’s edition starts at 9am on Saturday. But organisers are this time ambitious that awareness about sporting needs for children with disabilities must be spread throughout the country.

Special Olympics sporting activity, though expensive, personnel and time intensive,  must be provided to all Kenyan children in need. Sadly, because of the financial implications, the facilities are more easily reachable to children from “well-off” [financially and socially] background.


The Oshwal Academy Nairobi has the ideal setting “special-needs”Inclusive Education Department [IED]; a desirable goal throughout the country. The Oshwal Education and Relief Board, organisers of the annual sports extravaganza are now determined to do more for the country using the festival for a clarion call: “Give Me the Opportunity – Every Special Need Child/Student Deserves a chance.”

Sporting activities among these children with disabilities form the foundation of the country’s well known prowess at the world class Special Olympics where Kenya has won many Gold and other medals for a long time. But among children, school level, young people and even senior citizens, sporting and physical exercise needs are still under-provided for in the country.

Full array

Sports festivals such as the Oshwal’s need to be upped and publicised in order to raise awareness of how much more the country needs to do for children, youth, adults and senior citizens with disabilities. The festival organisers are making efforts to increase for children and the youth with disability, the numbers of sports disciplines,  from the traditional track and field, to cycling, cricket and in the long run to the full array provided in the Special Olympics.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta (centre in white) with the Special Olympics Team Kenya to the 2015 World Championships in Los Angeles, USA


It is estimated that seven [7%] percent of Kenya’s 48 million population has disabilities including: visual, hearing, speech, physical, mental, self-care difficulties and others. The need for mainstream sporting activity and body physical exercise cannot be gainsaid. In fact it may even be more critical for this class of people than others.

Taking part

Participating schools in Saturday’s Oshwal Festival include: Treeside Special Schools, Mathare Special Training Centre, Jacaranda Special School and Kabete Vet Lab Primary School – Special Unit.

Generally it is high cost special schools that attend the Oshwal Festival but organisers said now they were very happy that this time the public institutions named above will be able to attend. The Oshwal Festival organisers are calling on sponsors in order to raise a targeted Sh 4 million for specific projects in each of the above target schools.


Njambi Kiritu of ‘Impact by Design’, providers of PR [public relations] services for the Oshwal Education and Relief Board event organisers said the dream of the festival was to see every school child in the country in need of sporting activity and equipment gets it.

“The Special Olympics Committee in the country, I am glad to note is doing a splendid job to roll out programmes and facilities in the country but they need more and bigger support from Government, corporates and communities. There is a great need for sports programmes , activity and infrastructure with the population with disabilities,” she said.


It is estimated that out of 750,000 school-age children with disabilities, only 45,000 (6%) attend schools. There are a total of 97 special schools in Kenya that provide specialised education. The Ministry of Education, however, is encouraging integrating children with disabilities into ordinary school rather than having special schools for them. This way they can interact with other children and those without disabilities can learn to accept them.

Gold medal winners from a Special Olympics competition


Given the above numbers, there is likelihood that not all counties have specialised schools for children with disabilities. Over the past three decades, numerous studies have revealed that physical activity and sport participation result in improved functional status and quality of life among people with selected disabilities. Additionally, sport and physical activity has been linked to improvements in self-confidence, social awareness and self-esteem and can contribute to empowerment of people with disabilities.


In some schools, teachers play a pivotal role in the sporting opportunities provided to students with disabilities. Special education teachers at trained at KISE [Kenya Institute of Special Education]. The special education teachers are being trained to prepare individualised educational programs (IEP) but more emphasis should target the invaluable importance of sporting activity. In for instance the  case of  Down Syndrome and children with other mental disabilities teachers are trained to offer sporting activity guidance individually to children.


Many Kenyans are pleased with recent Government efforts to implement the rights of people with disabilities as provided in the new Kenyan Constitution.

Article 54 of the Constitution is a stand-alone article on disability and some of those sections relevant to physical activity are:

‘54. (1) A person with any disability is entitled –

 (b) to access educational institutions and facilities for persons with disabilities that are integrated into society to the extent compatible with the interests of the person;

(c) to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information;

(d) to use Sign Language, Braille or other appropriate means of communication; and

(e) to access materials and devices to overcome constraints arising from the person’s disability.

Kenya also has legislation that directly addresses issues relating to disability. For instance, the following enacted legislation addresses disability:

  • The Persons with Disabilities Act 14 of 2003:

The aims of the Persons with Disabilities Act are to provide for the rights and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, to achieve equalisation of opportunities for persons with disabilities, and to establish the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD). The Act also establishes the National Development Fund for Persons with Disabilities to provide monetary assistance to organisations and persons with disabilities.


The rights provided for in the Act include civil and political rights, equal rights of access to opportunities for suitable employment, to special and non-formal education, appropriate health care, participation in sporting and recreational activities and to a barrier free and disability friendly environment.

The plight of people with disability, even though it is continually being addressed,  includes financial implications, especially in schools; which, in fact, are very much inadequate in numbers and completely absent in some counties.

The Kenyan government updated their policy for people living with disabilities when the constitution was changed in 2011. The new legislation includes a section for disabilities and allows for tax-free benefits and bonuses.


But the private sector moves a little faster than Government efforts and most successful learning and care institutions are private. For instance, Circle Academy is a private school for children with special needs in the Kilimani area of Nairobi. The academy was founded in 2000 by Amar Panesar, who remains the school’s director.

The school’s philosophy is one of personalised education to help students reach their full potential. Class sizes are small and limited to 12 children. Student-to-teacher ratios average at two to one, with most of the students given individual attention throughout the day;  hence expensive.

Occupational therapy

Their programming is tailored to each child’s specific needs and caters to many types of disabilities, including Down Syndrome. Students with trisomy 21 – the medical term for Down Syndrome – learn how to read, write, do mathematics and use the computer. Many of them are also multi-lingual.

Students also participate in a wide array of extracurricular and sporting activities – swimming, horseback riding, music lessons and art classes. There are also one-on-one occupational and speech therapy sessions to stimulate the students in different ways.


Ms Panesar was inspired to found the school because she wanted to provide the space for special needs children to learn at their own pace, instead of forcing children to adhere to strict time frames.

Ms Amar Panesar, founder and manager of Circle Academy, Kilimani, a special school for children with disabilities


“Honestly, these children have taught me more than I have taught them,” said Amar. “I have began to value my life so much more and I feel so content and so perfect just being with them.”

Day schools like Circle Academy provide cutting edge instruction and personalised care to students with special needs. Many of the country’s similar facilities are concentrated in Nairobi. For most Kenyan families, such facilities remain out of reach. Circle Academy also helps special needs children transition into mainstream schools. Amar is often disappointed by the education available there.


“There are Down Syndrome children living in an urban setting and in a rich family,” said Mohammed Abduba Dida, father of Yusuf Dida a student  at Circle Academy who likes playing the guitar.

“The fees at Circle Academy is almost half a million Kenyan shillings per year, ” says Yusuf’s father “So, I tend to wonder about poor families.”

For Lucy Mombo of the Down Syndrome Society of Kenya, the policy [to take responsibility of school going childen with disability] may be perfectly worded, but its implementation has been disappointing.

Special Olympics coaches after graduatinng from a course at the University of Nairobi

“[Kenya] has a very good policy in terms of acceptance and inclusion, but in practice, it’s not a reality,” she said.


In the Kenyan public school system, children with Down Syndrome usually attend mainstream schools. For certain subjects such as music or vocational classes, some students with mild handicaps are integrated into classes with regular students. Prior to the establishment of special units, Down syndrome children weren’t integrated into the mainstream system. Instead, they were sent to specific special schools.

Ms Mombo is concerned with how people with varying intellectual disabilities, including Down Syndrome, are placed in a single classroom. She explains that while the policy provides for assistance and support for smaller student-teacher ratios, these provisions are often not implemented in public schools.

“Special needs units and small groups are popping up, but the quality is yet to come,” she explained.

– Additional reporting by DW Made for Minds