From a city council servant, now Harun Sereti Otwoma who left his Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) job to pursue greener pastures abroad is an accomplished social worker and intends to exploit his wide experience internationally.
When he left his civil service job to seek better pay in Canada, never in his wild dreams did he imagine to be as close to deranged human beings as he is now.
He has volunteered for over 6000 hours in Ontario Canada and now he has made it a career where he has established himself as a professional caregiver to people living with disabilities, youths, seniors, women, girls, the youth and the homeless. In Toronto, where he started his work as a volunteer, he has assessed more than 35 community homes.
As he celebrates his jubilee life alongside the country’s 50th anniversary, Otwoma reminisces his life as a social worker, thousands of miles away from home.
The stocky 53 year old father of five, is currently working in the home of people living with disabilities, who have become his close associates as he seeks to help them live a near normal life. Through the skills he has learnt and experienced as a social worker for more than 10 years in a number of states in Canada, he has been able to have them occasionally engage each other.
“I have been working in various institutions of persons with different disabilities in Canada for thirteen years now. I have been trained in handling people living with disabilities, the homeless and those having mental challenges. A skill got from various international colleges for a diverse experience that’s applicable anywhere in the world. I have done data taking; profiles among others,” he told The People recently during an interview.
I am particularly trained on how to handle and deal with persons with different disabilities and seniors. Otwoma who is on a mission to replicate Canadian systems in Kenya added. He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of When International Communities Connect and Partner.
He confessed that he has missed them and while he is away here in Africa, Otwoma has been informed by people who visit the disabilities centre that they keep asking for him.
“Every time when I report to duty, they are always happy to see me. The first thing I do is to greet them using respectable language like; ‘sir how are you today; can I come in’ and in this way, they will smile and allow you in,” he said.
To make them more at ease, he also asks them what they have been doing and what they would like to be done for them. As well, he would ask them if they have any problems; whether he can take them out for coffee or walk; or even find out if they want to talk to their parents.
And thirteen years ago, he left his job at KRA where he was in charge of weigh bridges, to start a life of hustle in Canada. But now Otwoma, a Canadian citizen, is back home with a big mission- to replicate what he has learnt in Canada.
Otwoma is particularly concerned about the attention given to the state of disabled persons in the country; which he says is poor or even non existent. In a quick assessment, he has learnt that; the few homes available for old people in Kenya have an unfriendly atmosphere.
“A visit to some of these facilities including hospitals for mentally challenged people, buildings and other infrastructure including public transport systems; one realises that, there are not friendly,” he said highlighting the reason is because there is no sufficient caregiving programme in the country.
“Compared to Canada where all disabled people have caregivers; support workers, nurses and medical doctors, in Kenya it is a different story completely; and this is what we want to change here,” said Otwoma who has started a Foundation through which all seniors, people living with disabilities,women, girls the youth and the homeless will be fostered.
He told the People that together with the institutions who are supporting the initiative, they want to introduce the Canadian system in Kenya where the society is always encouraged to learn how to stay with persons with disability. Training people through exchange programs and and introducing care giving institutions, hence skilled care givers can be able to work any where in the world. This will be possible considering the Canadian certification is an internationally credited set of discipline.
Through the OtwomaFoundation, the social worker intends to start raising money among public and private institutions to kick of a pilot how many of the country’s disabled persons need such services right to the grass-roots; establish homes and hire caregivers for these group of people.
“To change lives, something must be done. More than 40 million Kenyans have heard what President Uhuru Kenyatta wants in the programme he launched for disabled persons. Therefore, we all must strive towards that goal in order to make it possible for these people to live happily among us,” he said.
When he launched the programme for persons with disability recently, the president announced his government’s commitment to do a proper survey, and identify where all the disabled are; and bring them into the system.
At the same time, he says alongside the identification of disabled persons; the programme would also include getting caregivers on board. The caregivers, he says; must be people who know about food; medicines; one who understands what a disabled person’s needs are among other things.
“This person we call the caregiver, must also know how the disabled persons take their drugs; the time of taking them; their hospital appointments, shopping, church, walk to malls; their holiday calendar, and programmes for those who are attending meetings as well,” Otwoma said.
Caregivers, he adds, must also be people who have an open heart; blessed with unconditional love, people who can wash the disabled persons and clean their laundry. “Before admitting a disabled person, caregivers also must know who these people are; and their disability history,” he added.
He said even when doing assessments in shelters, that is what caregivers are expected to do; also check whether buildings have disability friendly conditions.
But Otwoma observed that, first the country’s leadership must change and be focused on putting up a complete infrastructure that would improve the life of a person with disability for the programme to succeed.
“The society should learn how to love persons with disability and take care of them when they are in need; for instance by providing donations of food stuffs, clothing, and any other humanly support.
We should also create awareness about disabilities, seniors and the homeless most of which have a solution,” he said.
People with disability, seniors and the homeless, Otwoma says; should be given equal opportunities in the society, and should not be discriminated or even segregated from the community.
He has written a proposal to the Ministry of Health to inquire where they can get facilities they can train caregivers.
During the International for Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Macharia Kamau emphasised the importance of having achievable targets with an overarching theme of inclusion for all.
To fundraise, he intends to call on Kenyans to volunteer the contributions with just a dollar each as other institutions; parastatals, private companies also willingly put money into the kitty.
To ward off corruption or any intentions to misappropriate the collected funds, and assure donors on the transparency of the project, Otwoma suggests that those who contribute sign a binding document.
He says that by March 2014, the project should start running, and will in future be replicated in the 47 County Governments where governors will be required to give a green light.
Otwoma who hails from Kenyenya in Kisii County, has undergone a diverse training programmes which include; Certificate in Support Worker; Diploma in Security; Certificate in Mental Challenge, Personal Support Worker Certificate level, Community Worker at Certificate level among others, with adequate experience for more than a decade.