International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Helping Ayan get better

Kenya is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, and the International Rescue Committee supports them and native Kenyans with clean water, health care and protection during emergencies, and with job training and education on legal rights and protections.

The IRC is the only provider of health care in the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, where our community-based rehabilitation program is providing life-changing assistance to people living with disabilities.  
This week, IRC grants intern Jane Yang is sharing some of their stories:

KAKUMA, Kenya - As Susan Waruhiu, IRC occupational therapist, explained my presence to curious parents in the IRC’s  pediatric occupational therapy center, I caught sight of Ayan, a six-year-old who, despite her age, was bundled in her father’s arms, unable to support her own head.  

“Ayan was born in 2005,” her 46-year-old father, Abdi Said Ahamed, told me. At that time, he and his wife already had been in Kenya 13 years, having fled war-torn Mogadishu to the Dadaab refugee complex in 1992. “During her pregnancy, her mother convulsed while washing clothes and delivered the child.” Ayan was premature by three months.

Mother and child were taken to the main camp hospital for treatment, but Ayan would be three months old before her parents would notice abnormalities in her development. Ayan was having difficulty eating, and her joints and muscles were so stiff her mother struggled to bath and clothe her. Just as troubling, Ayan did not seem interested in the world around her. She would not grasp at items held in front of her or exhibit other motor skills expected at her age. 
Ayan’s parents brought her back to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder resulting from damage to the motor control center in the developing brain. Over time, despite her parents’ attempts to help her stretch her tense muscles, Ayan’s left hip joint developed a contracture, meaning it became permanently stiff, or frozen in a a fixed position. Her legs were locked in a cross. 
In 2008, the Said Ahameds were transferred with their four children to Kakuma refugee camp, where they continue to live today. When the IRC’s community-based rehabilitation program (CBR) was reopened in August 2011 (having been closed since 2007 due to lack of funding), Ayan was identified as a patient for the pediatric occupational therapy program. She underwent an exercise regime intended to strengthen her muscles and improve her range of motion. The IRC staff also worked with Ayan on her social skills, encouraging her to play, and instructed her parents on how to best carry Ayan to support her muscles. “Ayan is getting better, slowly,” said her father. 
These days, Ayan plays with her siblings, laughing and smiling. However, the recovery process takes a long time and she still cannot grasp items or sit up without aid. And as Ayan grows in size and weight, it becomes harder for her parents to carry her to and from her therapy sessions. The IRC is advocating for funding to provide Ayan and dozens of other children like her with specialized wheelchairs.
Currently, the community-based rehabilitation program is operating with outdated equipment while waiting for additional funds to modernize the pediatric center. Despite these challenges, the IRC therapists are having a big impact on their patients. “The CBR program is going well,” Abdi told me. “We need it to continue until Ayan gets better.”
Since opening on August 15, 2011, the IRC’s pediatric occupational therapy center in Kakuma has seen more than 60 patients and conducted over 150 therapy sessions. Of the patients, 51 percent suffer cerebral palsy. 

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