Frankfort Square man introduces special-rec opportunities in Kenya
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent April 2, 2013 9:52PM
Keith Wallace, of Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, (left) and Sean Mixson, missions pastor at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, talk about their recent trip to Kenya Wednesday, March 13, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 4, 2013 6:41AM
Keith Wallace had his prayers answered.
Wallace, the superintendent of recreation for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, was part of a mission trip to Nairobi, Kenya, where he hoped to make a difference bringing recreation to people with disabilities.
As leader of the special-needs team, the 35-year-old Wallace, of Frankfort Square, was part of a group of nearly 100 volunteers from Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park. Before leaving his wife Marquita and children, Isaiah, 10; Iriana, 8, and Indiah, 5, Wallace asked everyone for “just a prayer.”
But nothing went as planned when the group reached the Mahari Valley, Wallace said. On the first day at the school of Mission of Hope International, a kind of “headquarters” for the special-needs team, Wallace found nine children had been identified with special needs in a class of 65 children.
Nearly 1 million people live in the area of the Mahari Valley where the mission is located. Nearly 10,000 children who could not afford to go to school attend the Mission of Hope School through sponsorships from people around the world.
Wallace said the team quickly learned to adapt to the situation and made the most of the mornings spent at the school.
“We accomplished a whole bunch of stuff in four days,” Wallace said.
Wallace worked with four Mission of Hope staff members and introduced the use of stretching, singing, movement and song, and the use of sports balls as props for additional movement.
The afternoons were the most difficult for the team, filled with visits to homebound people with disabilities who not only had sad stories, but lived in the most difficult conditions.
Wallace said living conditions are deplorable for an able-bodied person, let alone someone with a disability. Most families live in a 10-foot-by-10-foot room at one of several levels in the Valley.
Living conditions deteriorate as they move downward from a high to a low elevation, partly because wastewater flows in the streets, and walkways may not be as wide as a man’s shoulders. No wheelchair access is possible.
Wallace’s team visited families where a nonverbal child with cerebral palsy had never been taken outdoors, he said, rejected by her mother because of the stigma of a disability.
Another child with cerebral palsy was nurtured by his mother but suffered from sores caused by a deficient wheelchair the family did not have the means to fix. Another child who had not attended school for several years because one of his legs had inexplicably grown very large never received medical attention. The family had only consulted a “witch doctor” about the child’s condition, which continued to worsen.
Wallace said they helped where they could, but they could not supply the “cure” parents wanted.
A physical therapist on his team was able to teach stretching exercises for children with cerebral palsy to their parents, and Wallace was able to fix the wheelchair.
For Wallace, feelings of helplessness got worse before they got better.
As founder of Midwest Wheelchair Sport & Social Club, a nonprofit organization for adults with disabilities, Wallace believes in helping adults with disabilities feel productive. He said his most difficult moment in Kenya was meeting a 36-year-old man with a wife and two children who has not been able to work following an accident several years ago which left him unable to walk and unable to provide for his family. Wallace said when the man’s wife prayed in Swahili, he “lost it.”
“I didn’t understand the words, but I understood what she said,” Wallace said. “I broke down. I just couldn’t handle it.”
Wallace and his team decided to sponsor the family’s move to higher ground where the man’s wish to open a business selling staple items on the street could become a reality.
That was not the mission trip’s only happy beginning.
The final day was a Special Olympics fun day with equipment donated by the Tinley Park Special Recreation Association.
The team did not have prizes, but Wallace said certificates of participation were an unexpected hit.
“Those certificates were gold. I didn’t know the magnitude of it. It meant so much to them,” Wallace said.
Perhaps the most important outcome of the day was that families with children with disabilities were together and communicating for the first time, Wallace said.
“They knew there was someone out there like them,” he said.
For more information, visit www.parkviewchurch.com/orland.