“That tastes like fish.”
“There’s some avocado and tomato in it too!”
“What is that?”
These are some of the exclamations I heard from participants of a recent social experiment dubbed “Dining in the Dark” in Nairobi on November 13th as they ate the first course of their meal.
Governors, policy makers, legislators and government practitioners were blindfolded throughout a three-course luncheon, designed for them to experience some of the challenges people living with disabilities face. It was a relief to me when moderator Dr. Reginald Oduor, a visually-challenged disability activist, apologized to the diners for not being given a choice of what to eat for the first course. He reminded us that many times, people with visual disabilities are not given the opportunity to choose, and we should work towards eliminating that.
This unique event epitomized the launch of the Braille version of the County Public Participation Guidelines, marking a milestone in Kenya’s journey towards the inclusion of citizens with visual disabilities in the governance and development processes.
Basil and sage marinated roast chicken with zucchini and pineapple salsa sounded mouthwatering as Julie Gichuru, media personality and moderator for the event, announced the options for the main course. I have a great appetite for chicken, but I must admit the mystery and novelty of eating it in the dark left me wondering how huge the portion of chicken was! With affectionate abandon and because no one could see what the other was doing, I surrendered my plate to the waiter mid-poultry, something unheard of in the Kenyan village from where I hail. During the interesting excursion in the dark, I realized just how important it was to hear sound around me. Silence for over a minute set my nerves on edge. I learned that the sensory awareness journey had a profound impact on the other diners, too.
Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony, the chief guest at the luncheon and a representative of the Council of Governors was captured on camera as he set aside his soup spoon and freely deployed his hands to hold his bowl of soup. Con Omore, a governance advisor at the Department for International Development, tweeted that his experience was humbling, with amazing practical lessons.
I found the event vital because it ignited fresh commitment from each duty bearer to do something differently or enhance their efforts towards inclusion of people with disabilities. Globally, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of vision impairment. In Kenya there are about 622,000 visually-impaired people, with 331,593 listed as completely blind, according to the country’s 2009 census report.
The Braille version of the guidelines—produced by the Kenyan government with technical support from World Bank’s Kenya Accountable Devolution Program—seeks to promote good governance, transparency, accountability and inclusivity in all levels of government. World Bank Program Leader Paolo Belli, staid the Bank has made a commitment to support inclusive development, particularly in the collection of disability data. He noted that empowering visually-impaired people through training and access to assistive technologies will boost their contribution to Kenya's socio-economic renewal.
The Ministry of Devolution and Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) pledged to monitor and take affirmative action on the public procurement system at all the service delivery points to ensure that the one-third of opportunities are reserved and maintained for all persons faced by major disabilities.
While commending county governments for the progress they have made towards disability inclusion, such as facilitating their engagement in planning and budget formulation meetings, Governor Chepkwony urged them not to let the Braille version of the guidelines gather dust but utilize them. He said that the Council of Governors would constitute a team to monitor their implementation.
Juliana Kivasu, CEO of the Kenya Society for the Blind, urged government agencies to identify gaps and challenges in their policies and ensure disability mainstreaming in their strategic plans, and statutes and programs. For this to take place successfully, we as the World Bank will have to partner with other stakeholders, to build the capacity of county governments.
I was very impressed that an immediate response action arose four days after the event and was more-so championed by a youth group. The Youth Theatre Group based in Kibra, Nairobi’s most populous slum, had performed a poem at the launch titled “present but excluded.” Moses Omondi, who coordinates the theatre group, was inspired by “Dining in the Dark” to organize a forum for persons with disabilities in the slums of Kibra. The goal was to facilitate setting up a platform to articulate, address and be engaged in local social and economic issues affecting them.
The State Department of Planning under the Ministry of National Treasury and Planning has embarked on a process seeking to develop, publish and launch the braille version of the Kenya Vision 2030 popular version. Clearly the event, co-hosted by the Ministry of Devolution and ASAL, and the Council of Governors with the support from our Devolution Program had a great impact!