Promoting Future Leaders: Brian Malika on Inclusion in the U.S. and Empowering Women with Disabilities in Kenya

Brian Malika is a Fall 2018 PFP-IDE alumnus, journalist and advocate for disability rights, women’s rights, and mental health. In our monthly blog, he reflects on what he learned about empowerment and inclusion in the U.S., and how he is applying that to communities in Kenya.

I spent six weeks outside my country Kenya in the city of Bloomington, Indiana, where I spent my PFP-IDE Fellowship at the Indiana Institute On Disability and Community (Indiana UCEDD). While I was there I learned about many things that enhanced my understanding of disability.

These included the Universal Design for Learning model, a disability implementation framework that ensures spaces, products or processes are designed for use by the maximum number of people without modification and was introduced to  how even playgrounds are built to accommodate children with disabilities. Witnessing an accessible playground in Indiana was a moment of epiphany for me. It broadened my perspective about the possibility of accommodating persons with disabilities into normal life experiences across every life stage. The need to accommodate and include persons with disabilities is especially important  for societies like Kenya, where some children with a disability are denied a chance  to even get out of the house due to the social stigma and prejudice that others apply to them.

Another important experience I got to enjoy was the chance to live with three American families that all had a relative with a disability. This let me connect with Americans with disabilities within my Fellowship workplace and in the community. I was surprised to witness that my host families showed so much goodwill and psychosocial support to their relative with a disability. Their neighbors were also very friendly and supportive to them and all my three host families. If you visit my country, especially in rural parts where I come from,  families with a relative with a disability are not as well accepted by their surrounding communities. In fact, it is an exception to witness a family accepting a member with a disability as one of their own.  Some people people individuals with a disability background to be cursed, along with their families.

My U.S. PFP-IDE Fellowship experience at the Indiana UCEDD has driven me to advocate for families who have members with disabilities, so that they can come out and tell their stories,  show their unconditional love and support for each other, and be empowered and accepted. The American families I met in Indiana have the power to normalize the reality of living with a disability or being part of a family that includes someone with a disability. I want the same for my country, so that families and persons with disabilities can share their own stories of accepting and loving each other, and not face exclusion.

Brian in Indiana

Brian at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community (Indiana UCEDD) in October 2018.

My Fellowship also exposed me to how strongly the U.S. disability movement is supported by laws that are long-established and well enforced through their activism. Many laws empower persons with disabilities in the U.S., including the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990. Since then, America’s ADA has been progressed by continuous research, advocacy campaigns, and collective community support. All of this has helped strengthen how the ADA and other disability laws are implemented in a way that deliberately accommodates and includes everyone across social spheres to the most reasonable extent.

In contrast, Kenya’s current constitution which was put into effect in 2010, preserves disability rights, but its effect is only symbolic. When you compare it to the American ADA, you will realize that there are no clear implementable frameworks to enable Kenyans with disabilities to actually feel the impact of protective laws in their daily lives. The level of research, advocacy and community support in Kenya does not match that in America, and disability advocates need stronger resources and supports like those from the ADA and the U.S. disability movement in order to build action plans that actually deliver change.

Women in Policy Making - Training 1

Brian and his colleagues train young Kenyan women with disabilities on policy and self-advocacy after finishing his Fellowship.

As a Kenyan disability rights advocate, I am already executing the techniques I learned from my PFP-IDE Fellowship to promote accommodation and inclusion in my country. In addition to being a PFP-IDE Fellowship alum, I am an alum of the Young African Leader’s Initiative (YALI). which is a U.S. government initiative created as a signature commitment to invest in the next generation of Africa’s leaders. Both YALI and the Professional Fellows Program (which the PFP-IDE Fellowship belongs to) are supported by the U.S. State Department, and I’ve sought resources through the network to build new disability leaders in Kenya.

Women in Policy Making - Training 2

Future Leaders: Young women in western Kenya learn how to champion their rights in policymaking with Brian’s lessons.

After returning home to Kenya from my PFP-IDE Fellowship, I developed a plan to train  girls and young women from under-resourced parts of rural western Kenya in policymaking. Reflecting the population balance, I made sure that 20% of all trainees were women with disabilities and applied the skills I had learned during my Fellowship in Indiana to ensure my training was inclusive. I wanted to make an impact by nurturing girls with disabilities from rural Kenya so that they can negotiate for their rights skillfully and engage in policymaking advocacy. My project was even selected as an awardee by the U.S. State Department Alumni Engagement Fund, which supports select initiatives created by former participants in their international programs.

Since launching the initiative, I have trained 200 young women in policymaking skills, 40 of whom were young women with disabilities, and am committed to continuing to build new leadership.