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Rupal Nathwani A Sparkle At Sparsh Kenya

Rupal Nathwani A Sparkle At Sparsh Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos By: HUSSEIN JIVA

Meet Rupal Nathwani, one of the
founding members of Sparsh Kenya, a not-for-profit organisation that helps differently-abled young adults develop their potential and become self-reliant and independent. She and the co-founders preach the mantra ‘disability is not inability’ and with the aid of devoted volunteers, collectively help realise a better tomorrow for the differently-abled. On the back of their five-year anniversary celebration, Nathwani speaks to The Asian Weekly on the journey thus far, as they continue the practice of de-stigmatisation of such a population, eradicating ignorance and instead instilling belief, hope, love and promise for a brighter future.

 

BY HUSSEIN JIVA

 

Congratulations on the five year anniversary of Sparsh Kenya. The organisation was a dream for Kiran and Nita Shah. How has the organisation grown over the years?

Indeed, it was a dream that, through the Founding members – Kiran and Nita Shah, along with Shefali Khapre and I – was realised. Over the years, we have grown in various ways. We have moved from working with three young adults to 19. When we started, there wasn’t clear direction. We were struggling to find the right balance between what our young adults could craft and what products had a market in Nairobi. Over time, we experimented with different products, mainly paper products and confectionery items. Finally, a few years on, we found a formula that worked. Our girls and boys now make brown and white envelopes of different sizes, gift bags of different sizes, decorated envelopes, gift tags, chocolates of different flavours and cereal bars. We supply printed medical envelopes to MP Shah Hospital as well as envelopes of different sizes to other organisations, among other products. Also growing is the awareness of our organisation as well as the volunteers who dedicate time with us – we are very grateful for this.

 

What is the current attitude towards the specially-abled population and how has your work impacted it?

There is a lack of awareness and a lot of misconceptions regarding people with special needs. They are, as you note, differently abled. And if given the chance, will prove they can be productive. We hosted a dinner and dance evening to mark our five-year anniversary; we wanted to showcase what they can do. They welcomed the guests, performed for them, served them meals and danced through the evening with the guests. They brought smiles to so many faces. Many of our guests were pleasantly surprised with what they saw. While we continue to create awareness, there remains a long way to go.

 

Nathwani, unfortunately there remains a lot of stigma associated to such individuals, which is counter-productive to inclusivity. How can we better address this as a society, community and country at large?

Acceptance; accepting them for who they are. It includes respecting them for you they are and loving them for who they are. We must provide them opportunities.

 

On that note, are Kenyan institutions, be it economic, social or academic, sensitive enough to the needs of specially-abled

individuals?

Unfortunately, the basic infrastructure in most institutions does not cater to people with special needs. Having said that, I believe that with continued awareness and sensitisation efforts, we will soon see some changes.

 

Tied to that are policies; where is the country’s shortfalls and how can we

improve on this?

The basic infrastructure of the country, from public transport to shopping areas and institutions, do not always cater to people with special needs. There are a few provisions made, such as a special identity card that allows them to get a tax rebate and duty-free cars et cetera. However, there is a lack of available information regarding them. Mandatory specifications should also be put into place for all new infrastructure being designed, keeping the differently-abled population in mind.

 

There is a gradual absorption of differently-abled children and adults into various set-ups, including school festivals and regional games. How can we further catalyse this?

I think you, the media, can be the greatest catalysts. You reach out to the masses. Just as you provide media coverage, you are consequently raising awareness of just what these young adults are capable of. There will be more acceptance and even more sensitisation and awareness programs to continue the cause. Social media also presents a powerful tool to catalyse the process.

 

Taking you back a bit, aside from caring and supporting these individuals, you have a program that sees young adults craft products for sale. What has the overall outcome of that initiative been?

Essentially, Sparsh Kenya is a workshop; it is a place where youngsters with special needs come to work. Just like any other person who goes to work, this is their work place and that is what we reinforce, not only to them but everyone. They have their individual responsibilities and have to fulfil tasks given to them. We have orders that we have to meet and they are aware of that. We achieve all of this with love, care and support.

 

Every success story starts from the first and humble step. How can we encourage your activities on a larger scale?

Well, you have already through media coverage. We need to encourage readers and the wider population to support the organisation in various capacities. A lot more can be done.

 

On a personal note, how do you feel after devoting your time and expertise to help differently-abled individuals?

There is this misconception that working with people with special needs will require some special training or expertise. None of the founding members had any training in special needs. All you require is a little patience and lots of love in your heart. Spending time and working with them is pure joy!

 

Finally, what do you take home after a day’s work at Sparsh Kenya?

I take home a sense of fulfillment and gratitude. Also, receiving their unconditional love is truly something special.

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