Kenya: an 11-year-old refugee smiles again


Eleven-year-old Ikro is sitting on the floor of a small mud house, alongside her uncle Mohamed Hasa, and Mohamed's 60-year-old mother, Unbie. “Ikro’s parents divorced when she was very young,” Mohamed explains. He has cared for her ever since as he would a daughter. Ikro was born with cerebral palsy, which has prevented her from talking and moving around.  “I taught Ikro as best I could," says Mohamed. "She’s a gentle, lively child. She likes playing games and interacting. Her legs are paralyzed, but she’s got a sharp mind." 

The family fled to Kenya in 2007 from Somalia after experiencing years of war. “For four years, only women could go out,” says Mohamed. “The men had to stay indoors. It was a time of terror and anxiety.” says Mohamed. “I remember one night when there were bombs exploding across the city. Ikro was screaming and crying so much.”

"In 2007, a bomb hit a school just next to us," she Ubie. "I was sitting under a tree, and I lost my sight. Now, because I broke my right leg, I can’t walk. Without Mohamed, we’d be totally lost.”

"After that we fled our country and arrived in Dadaab refugee camp, in the east of Kenya," says Mohamed. "We arrived in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2008, with five other nieces and nephews. The living conditions are very harsh. We don’t have any way to earn money. There are too many mouths to feed. I caught malaria and I feel weak. And until recently, Ikro only had a wheelchair, which didn’t work well. She was not going to school, and didn’t get any support.”

In July 2014, things changed for the better. A Handicap International rehabilitation team met with Ikro. “It was a big relief,” Mohamed says. They asked about Ikro's past, and examined her paralyzed legs, which she can’t feel. Since September, she has been going to rehabilitation sessions three times a week with Handicap International’s occupational therapists. Her legs are massaged and her muscles stretched. Ikro is now more flexible and has better balance.

The organization also gave Ikro a new wheelchair, so she can move around more easily. An adapted seat allows her to attend school. Jared Obuya, one of Handicap International’s rehabilitation trainers, notes Ikro’s progress: “She uses sign language. She’s more self-reliant And much happier!"

"Handicap International has been very supportive of Ikro," says Mohamed. "I want the best for her:  to be protected, to go to school, and to be more independent. She’s everything I have.”

Over the last year, Handicap International has conducted more than 13,000 rehabilitation sessions for more than 1,400 people with disabilities. “We estimate that at least 18,000 people have a disability here," says Reiza Dejito, HI's operational coordinator for refugee affairs in Kenya. "The needs are enormous.”

This project is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.