Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Access to Education and Living with Disability among the Luo of Kenya: A Complex View, a Troubling Response

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Access to Education and Living with Disability among the Luo of Kenya: A Complex View, a Troubling Response

Article excerpt

Introduction

Local elders play an important role in community development. Among the Luo of western Kenya, local elders are believed to hold the social fabric of society (Obure et al., 2011). They are considered opinion leaders, who serve as a frame of reference when members of the community want to make moral, political, or economic decisions at local level. Local elders are custodians of culture (Abong'o, 2014). They share cultural knowledge through proverbs, stories and conversations (Ogola-Ayayo, 1980). They interpret development interventions from the state and non-governmental organizations through cultural lens. By doing so, they give meaning to development by influencing the way people perceive and respond to development interventions.

The way local elders interpret development interventions has far reaching implications to development process and outcomes for instance, social acceptability of development programs or compliance with policy directives. During the British colonial period, formal education was largely a reserve of the elite (Cunningham M., 2006). It was associated with the right to govern or lead. Local elders interpreted this, by meaning that boys rather than girls should be given access to advanced education, since boys reserve the right to govern society. Luo community is a Patriarchal society. For decades, even after independence, households tend to spend more resources on boys' higher education compared to girls. This indicates that the influence of local elders' interpretation of development intervention leaves behind a legacy that outlives generations. During 1980s to 1990s for instance, Western Kenya was severely affected by HIV/AIDS. It was a new phenomenon in region. The government policy at the time was to encourage voluntary HIV/AIDS testing after which, those affected would be given medical care. However, local elders thought HIV/AIDS was not what government said it was, but rather a curse. In local villages, they were taught that this was a curse that befalls a man when he had sex with a widow (Miruka et al., 2015). Therefore, to prevent this curse, men should avoid having sex with widows. This view was widely shared in the community. Local artists made songs out of it. The view was strongly held in society. It took more than two decades to demystify the origin of the disease.

The above experience points to the idea of contemporary stories as a theory. Bagele Chilisa (2012) on contemporary stories as a theory observes that when a society is confronted with social, economic or political challenges, members of that society construct stories to explain a problem. Contemporary stories as theories have three common characteristics, namely: (1) they identify/name problem (for instance HIV/AIDS is a curse); (2) they describe what caused the problem (for instance HIV/AIDS is acquired when a man has sex with a widow); and (3) they prescribe the solution (for instance, to avoid HIV/AIDS, men should avoid having sex with widows).

Contemporary story as a theory is a qualitative technique that can be very useful in understanding social problems from the perspective of the community. It brings into development a constructed social reality of the community, which is often different from science or facts-based reality upon which policy and development interventions are based. The difference between these two realities can lead to policy implementation failure. If the reality of the community is not compatible with the reality that underlies policy design and implementation, communities can resist or refuse to comply with policy and development interventions. Despite of this, studies give little attention to the social reality constructed around social problems in community. Considering these, the purpose of this study is to explore stories Luo elders in Western Kenya construct around children with disability and access to education. The study attempts to answer the following questions: (1) What stories do Luo elders construct around children living with disability? …

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