| Kennedy was his name. Everyone called him Kenned. He was only four years old. And now he is gone. Just like that.
He was a child with a disability that came to our day centers regularly. He made progress and laughed and we loved him. He received therapy and healthcare through the program. He had a world of possibilities out there waiting for him.
He died tragically in a fire accident and it has taken an emotional toll on all of us – those who work in the office, those who knew him from his day center, his entire community. It’s often hard to know what to write at a moment like this, so I will give you the facts. Because the tragedy lies not only in the fact that Kenned is now gone, and in the awful end he must have faced, but in that what happened is not so uncommon in Tanzania.
Kenned was at home with his sister, who also has a disability. They’ve both been coming to our Karanga 2 center for some time now. The fact that two children in the same family both have disabilities is not uncommon here, either, but is the subject of another post for another day.
The family has very, very little income. His mother supports the family by selling vegetables that she grows. Alone and unable to find someone to watch them that evening, she locked them in the house while she went to drop off her produce outside of the bus stand for the next day. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t sell anything. She would then have no money. And they survive day-to-day on the little bit of money the vegetables earn.
This might even sound irresponsible to parents in wealthier parts of the world. In Tanzania, this is another reality. A single mother has to survive, and so sometimes children with disabilities are left home alone while mom does what she needs to do for the family.
Only around 14% of Tanzanians have access to electricity. Even for those residents like myself lucky enough to be “on the grid”, power is extremely unreliable. This means that like most families in this country, Kenned and his sister were in a home lit by a kerosene lamp that night. What exactly happened is still unclear, but there must have been an accident and house caught fire from the lamp. While Kenned’s sister was mobile enough to escape, he was trapped in the house and by the time they were able to reach him, the fire had engulfed everything. He had already passed away.
Fire accidents are all too common here. Unfortunately, Kenned had many of the risk factors that the UNICEF associates with fire-related deaths and injuries: poverty, lack of electricity and disability. According to the World Health Organization, more than 95% of fire-related deaths happen in low-middle income countries.
In addition to the fact that these homes use fire, charcoal, and oil for both cooking and lighting, the construction of the homes also includes more flammable material. Many of the children in our program in Tanzania and their families live in small homes with wooden frames that contain one or two rooms. There are often no doors, just cardboard or a piece of fabric that serves as a curtain. To top it all off, these dwellings rarely have running water, so families need to fetch water from a well or water point. That not only means parents often have to slip out when children are home to get more water, but getting water to put out a fire quickly is almost impossible.
Kenned’s death shook all of us. It also drove home how interconnected many of the issues are that our children and their families face really are. Their poverty, disability and lack of access to medical or emergency services all add up to make life very tenuous sometimes.
Tragedies like this prove how different segments of “international development” really are as well. It is difficult to segment out issue areas like “health”, “disability”, “infrastructure” or “women’s empowerment”. In this case all of these were compounding risk factors that contributed to the death of an innocent child. A child we mourn and miss.
We will carry on and redouble our efforts to help parents in the ways we can. The director of the Tanzanian program, Deacon Kaaya, and Gertrude, who manages most of our health and education activities, have already started working on plans to provide additional education and training to families about child safety at home and the principles of child protection. We’re exploring initiatives in Tanzania that help poor families,like those in our program, obtain alternatives to kerosene lamps. Solar-powered lamps and other solutions do exist, but they are very costly, especially on a Tanzanian family’s income. These are the days we realize that our work here is vitally important, but there is far to go.
If you have insight, suggestions or expertise in alternatives for families in extreme poverty who do not have access to electric lighting, or can help us find funding to provide such a solution, please comment below.
Most of all, keep Kenned’s mother, sister, friends and caregivers at the center and all of us here in your thoughts and prayers.
*About Image: This home is not where Kenned lived, but it is representative of the types of homes many of our families in Moshi live in.