Local Volunteers Help Struggling Child Services Network In Kenya


Ian Wallace, Columnist

In the United States, services for children with disabilities is publicly funded, with a large network of therapists.  Wanda Salter, a speech pathologist at Bellows Falls Union High School, during a trip to Kenya with a church group found that this is not the case in rural Kenya.  Children can rarely afford private services, and even those who can afford services may not have them in their local area. If services are available, children with disabilities are often seen as cursed by their parents.  After seeing the reality of child services in Kenya, Salter found a connection with Kenyan speech service provider “The Yellow House” and currently travels to Kenya twice a year.

Makeshift therapy chair.

Karen Wallace, a physical therapist working as an early interventionist, was eventually invited to join Salter in Kenya.  A perfect team primed for an exciting journey, Wanda Salter and Karen Wallace boarded planes for Kenya in March along with Salter’s daughter, aspiring therapist Alice Salter-Roy.  Their mission this time was to provide training for a startup Preschool in Mumias, Kenya for disabled children, the first of its kind in Kenya. For Karen Wallace, this was the first time she had ever been to Kenya, let alone Africa.  She saw chronic underfunding but incredible ingenuity. “I enjoy traveling, and I was curious to see how children with disabilities receive services in Kenya,” she says. “I was amazed at their ingenuity and how they were able to create effective therapy methods with little resources, but they have a long way to go to increase the amount of services that people receive.”  A therapy chair made of cardboard and wheat paste particularly impressed the 48-year-old physical therapist.

(left to right) Karen Wallace, Wanda Salter, Alice Salter-Roy

With the preschool in Mumias currently under five students, Salter realizes that the most significant changes needed are in the cultural perceptions of children with disabilities.  “I learned that the more times I go, the more I realize there is a need for speech pathologists because many parents think their kids are cursed,” she says. “We need to teach them that the kids can bring quite a lot to the world.”  

Alice Salter-Roy is using her experience in Kenya as her Senior Project at BFUHS.  She says she went on the trip, “…So I could experience what it’s like to be a physical therapist in Kenya and have a great Kenyan experience.  I also wanted to focus my senior project on physical therapy in Kenya, so it would help me get a better look on if I want to have a future career in that area.”  She says she still doesn’t know if she wants to be a physical therapist, but the trip confirmed her interest in the medical field. When asked what she learned from her trip, she responded, “ It helped me learn how to handle patients and learn problematic areas of why a child won’t reach a certain milestone such as walking and standing. It was also a cultural learning experience and overall was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

After the learning and training in Mumias and other schools and medical centers around Kenya, the trio ended their trip in Africa as tourists on a safari, a relaxing end to an exciting journey.