Eunice Gichuhi, standing on right, is an advocate for women with disabilities in Kenya and in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Meenu Sikand

Young woman tackles disability in Kenya and Toronto

By  Jacklyn Gilmor, Youth Speak News
  • May 10, 2018

Eunice Gichuhi is half a world away from her native country, but that has never stopped her from reaching out to help. 

Gichuhi, 18, is the founder of Aminia Girls, an organization that helps raise funds for Kenyan girls with disabilities. Aminia is a Swahili word that means to have hope or faith. 

“What I want is for these girls to know that they have a place in society,” she said. “I want them to ... have faith in us and our future.” 

Gichuhi is in Grade 12 at Madonna Catholic Secondary School in Toronto. She was born in Murang’a, Kenya, and moved to Canada in 2015.

Aminia Girls consists of seven young men and women, including Gichuhi. She said she was inspired to create Aminia Girls last year after she noticed a problem of stigma in her community.

“A lot of parents will hide it if they have a child with a disability, or they leave the child in the streets … no one is helping them,” she says. “It’s like they’re discarded.”

Right now, one of her goals is to raise funds for a wheelchair which will go to a girl in Kenya who has a spinal cord injury and is unable to walk. 

Most schools in Kenya are not wheelchair accessible. Gichuhi recalls walking home from classes as a child and seeing children with disabilities in the streets. 

At age nine, she met a girl who had a condition in her legs and trouble walking. She used a makeshift cane to get around. They became friends, but after a while, the girl stopped coming to class. 

“The family kept her home because it was hard for her to even go to school,” Gichuhi said.

Gichuhi hopes Aminia Girls will eventually assist boys as well. Girls are the current focus because they face more barriers when they have a disability, she said.

“The community talks when they see that a child is disabled. They bring it on the family — especially the woman — so that’s one of the things that makes them keep the child at home,” she said.

 “I just find it very touching that she (is) so passionate about this,” says Joe Spinelli, one of Gichuhi’s teachers at Madonna. 

At the beginning of the school year, Gichuhi came to Spinelli with her idea for Aminia Girls. He helped her create a website and use marketing skills and social media to raise awareness.

“When she started telling me about this, I’m thinking wow, most Grade 12s are just stressing about their marks and what programs they want to get into,” he said.

Gichuhi’s main goal is to raise awareness, attending events where she has the chance to showcase her organization. In April, she attended a student peace rally in Toronto organized by Development and Peace and performed a spoken word poem she wrote about women’s role in creating peace. 

On top of Aminia Girls, Gichuhi is also the founder of the youth link for an organization called Accessibility for All (A for A), based in Woodbridge, Ont. A for A assists people with disabilities in the Greater Toronto Area. 

A for A is planning to visit some First Nations communities, where Gichuhi hopes to meet with Indigenous youth who have disabilities. 

Meenu Sikand, the CEO of A for A, said they want to reach out to elected officials and get in touch with some First Nations leaders so they can address their needs. 

“Why not start close to home with the communities that are struggling with issues of inaccessibility, lack of education and disempowerment?” she said. “Disability is not limited to one area, and we know that infrastructure is a problem.”

Sikand said young people are an important part of the organization’s work. 

Gichuhi is headed to the University of Toronto next year to pursue a degree in physics. 

(Gilmor, 20, is a second-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto.)

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