Shikuku Obosi

July 2020
A man smiling to camera

Shikuku Obosi is based in Kenya and is a disability inclusion technical adviser at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), which funds the Inclusive Futures initiative.

His role is to provide technical advice for ensuring people with disabilities are included in the work and culture (both internally within FCDO, and externally), in large development programmes which involve multiple partner organisations.

Here, Shikuku shares his own personal story of growing up in Kenya and reflects on what motivated him to apply for his current role and be part of the Inclusive Futures initiative.

My experience growing up as a disabled child in rural Kenya has informed my career

I got polio at the age of three, which affected both of my lower limbs but one is more paralysed than the other. Accessing rehabilitation services was very, very difficult. We had one mobile orthopaedic clinic that would visit our village once every six months. I remember, my mom would carry me on her back to take me there, but to attend school, I had to walk over rough terrain myself and would always arrive late. My teacher did not have any awareness of disabilities – they would beat my back every time I was late.

I think that experience made me aware of the link between social inclusion and quality of life. I credit that understanding to the acceptance of my parents, who brought me up to never feel that I was different to my siblings. And even though they were of humble means and my journey to school was difficult, they ensured that I went to school every single day. I succeeded in junior school and went on to high school, then university. Of course, through all there were challenges, mainly with the inaccessible physical environment of the campuses.

I decided quite early in my life that disability inclusion would form part of everything that I do. Despite all the challenges that I had growing up, I succeeded. However, there are a vast number of disabled children in this country and beyond who are not as successful. Over the years, I’ve made quite a deliberate and conscious choice to be in a position where I could not only influence other people to be accommodative and inclusive of disabled people, but also to be an example that inspires others.

I’ve dedicated a huge chunk of my life to disability inclusion work

For more than 15 years, I have worked either as a field worker, implementing disability inclusion programmes, or in senior leadership, management, or consulting positions.

My work has covered more than 20 countries, mainly across Africa and Asia, while I’ve been based in offices in Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, as well as the UK. Travelling brings a lot of positive effects – including the ability to roll with the punches.

I’m hired by Sightsavers and seconded to FCDO

I’m hired by Sightsavers to help ensure our programmes in east and southern Africa are disability inclusive, but primarily I’m seconded to FCDOto promote inclusivity in their work and within their work culture. The variety of work I do ensures that no day is like any other.

Sightsavers is a key partner of FCDO’s and they have a long history of helping FCDO design policies that promote inclusion. I facilitate presentations, training and workshops for FCDO staff and their partners to ensure programmes are disability inclusive. My favourite part of the job is to share my expertise and see how that contributes to high-quality programmes that leave no one behind.

When I came across the advert for my current role, it tickled my nerves. I found it very interesting because leading disability organisations are coming together to achieve change for disabled people. I thought: “This is something I want to support, I want to be part of this”. So, I accepted the interview and the rest is history. I’m here and I’m excited about that.

I’m very proud of my disability inclusion work, particularly in the area of inclusive education

Before I began my current role, I was contracted by the African Union Commission to develop their Disability Strategic Framework. Every country that’s a member state of the African Union is obligated to implement the framework.

One of the priority areas in the framework is access to inclusive education. Education is key for human development, yet over 98 per cent of children with disabilities in Africa do not go to school. Quality is not always ensured for the two per cent that do, because the teachers are not trained, or there’s no specialist equipment. In some cases, children go to school but are segregated in special systems, which only continues to cement the notion that children with disabilities are inferior.

The framework I developed prioritises inclusive education, to ensure children with disabilities can go to inclusive learning institutions on an equal basis with others.

The way that people are described by others can directly affect the course of their lives

This is particularly pertinent to the communication around COVID-19. News reports and official statements that seek to comfort readers by saying it is “only” elderly and chronically ill people who are at serious risk of dying from COVID-19 aggravate the natural anxiety that we, as people with illnesses and disabilities, may have.

The message that I take from this is that there are certain people who are “acceptable losses” – that there are members of society who are considered to be more disposable than others.

The language used at times like this tells us a lot about an underlying “us and them” mentality that feels particularly corrosive. It seems to ignore the fact that the people being talked about as “vulnerable” may also be reading the same articles. We become invisible. I’ve recently written a blog on changing the language around COVID-19.

When we come out of the other side of COVID-19, I really hope that people with disabilities will not have been left behind

As a Sightsavers member of staff seconded to FCDO, I have had to adapt my support. I recently provided FCDO staff with practical information and advice on how they can make sure any emergency COVID-19 response is disability inclusive.

I hope people with disabilities will have been considered and prioritised on an equal basis with others.

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We’re working to tackle negative attitudes around disability to free people with disabilities from the stigma and discrimination they often experience.

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