When the media publish their end-year round-up of 2017’s leading newsmakers, top KCPE exam candidate Goldalyn Kakuya will feature prominently on the list.
The 14-year-old girl from Kakamega County, who scored 455 out of 500 marks, will not only be remembered for her academic excellence, but also for the instrumental role of raising awareness about albinism.
Albinism is a genetic condition characterised by lack of the pigment melanin in the skin, hair and eyes.
It is a greatly misunderstood condition. This ignorance has given way to dangerous myths that promote social exclusion of people with albinism.
One particularly harmful myth is that all people with albinism are blind.
As a result, the vast majority of children with albinism attend schools for the blind, despite the fact that with simple medical assistance they can attend regular schools.
This greatly limits their ability to realise their full potential.
As NIC Bank, we came to understand this issue with greater clarity after an encounter with a renowned eye specialist, Dr Choksey Prabha, who has worked in Kenya for the past three decades.
In 2008, she began offering children with albinism free eye check-ups, glasses and sunscreen.
Her assistance has transformed the lives of more than 1,000 children with albinism by allowing them to attend normal schools.
Top KCPE candidate Goldalyn is one of the beneficiaries of Dr Prabha’s work.
According to her research, over 80 per cent of children with albinism attend schools for the visually impaired at the primary school level.
This is despite the fact that with prescription glasses and a little assistance with large type text and high contrast written material, all children with albinism can attend normal schools.
As part of her work with people with albinism, she established the Dr Choksey Albinism Foundation in 2014 for 11 young women with albinism.
The foundation has allowed her to reach more children.
Dr Prabha’s expert understanding of albinism, as well as her passion and integrity, informed the bank’s decision to partner with her on a long-term basis.
Through this partnership we have sponsored 70 students living with albinism, enabling them to pursue their primary and secondary school education.
The majority are in primary school, where our focus is on orphans or children of single parents.
Children from poor families with both parents receive 75 to 80 per cent support, as the foundation wants the parents to be part of the upbringing of their children.
In 2017, the bank increased its support and sponsored five students to the M-Pesa Foundation Academy.
The five were all recipients of the funding from NIC Bank at their primary school level.
In total, the bank has provided Sh2.7 million, a part of which went to support Goldalyn’s primary school education.
Our experience with Dr Prabha has reinforced our conviction that corporate social responsibility (CSR) does not end with donating money.
There must be a personal and sustained interaction between the corporation and the beneficiaries of its CSR projects.
Without this, the corporation’s understanding of the issue at hand will remain superficial, undermining any chances of real and sustainable transformation.
Working closely with Dr Prabha and the children has helped us realise that besides limited access to quality formal education, another key struggle for the learners with albinism is social stigma.
This limits their ability to learn soft skills, such as networking and socialisation, which are key determinants of success in the modern job market.
Boosting the job readiness of children with albinism cannot be limited to donations and school attendance.
It must also necessarily include genuine acceptance, social integration and unconditional respect.
This form of support will encourage them to interact more freely with others without fear of rejection, enabling them to be competitive in the job market where networks and interpersonal skills are increasingly important.
As a bank, we are leading by example. We recently organised a luncheon for Goldalyn, a few other learners with albinism, Dr Prabha and her staff, and NIC Bank’s top management, including its group managing director, Mr John Gachora.
The message we hope to put across is that integrating people with albinism is a sustainable CSR strategy as it promotes attitude changes in organisations.
Mrs Gichuru is the marketing, communications and citizenship director at NIC Bank Group. [email protected]