In the afternoon of September 27, 2008 we received an urgent call from the hospital in Msambweni. I (Gudrun Dürr) was asked to have a look at a four-year-old boy in the children's medical unit as soon as possible. Such a request is always linked to the question whether the respective child would find a place to live at Nice View. At once, Paulah, a staff member in the kindergarten, and I went to the hospital and after completing several formalities we were led to Nicolas' bed. The nurse opened the mosquito net and we saw a slim boy in a rather bad condition: rough skin, suffering from a cold and completely apathetic. He was however not infected with HIV, the nurse assured us. But it pierced my heart when I looked into the boy's lifeless eyes. Bright spots on the cornea covered his eyes' irises and rendered him blind. In the hospital we were not able to determine whether he was completely blind because Nicolas did hardly respond to words or touches. As happens so often, I was shocked how a disabled child is treated in Kenya. Several weeks ago, Nicolas' father brought the boy to the hospital - extremely thin - and it was obvious that his father did not lack food. The hospital did not know Nicolas' mother and his father had not appeared at the boy's bed for five days. During this time, Nicolas's had not spoken a word and had been sitting in the bed almost impassively. As always, my feeling told me that we had to adopt Nicolas at Nice View. I was also aware of the fact that a blind boy would need similar extensive care, attention and help like our disabled Neema. This is why I asked the head of the children's medical unit to understand that I first had to prepare my staff members for Nicolas' possible adoption at Nice View - which I did the same evening. Everyone agreed to the decision which I had already taken in my heart although they did see - like me - the difficulties of the task that lay ahead. On that evening the Youth Welfare Office called and gave their approval for Nicolas adoption at Nice View. The fact that Nicolas' father had not appeared at the boy's bed in the hospital for five days constituted neglect on his part. We then chose adequate clothes for a four-year-old boy from our stores and went to bring Nicolas to Nice View. All the children welcomed and accepted him warmly. Anna took particular loving care of him and got him two rattles and helped him to handle them. Nicolas very quickly learned to shake the rattles on his own and I was relieved to discover that the boy became less and less apathetic and started to notice his surroundings. Now we wait worriedly but also hopefully for the day next week when a member of the eye clinic will visit Nice View to examine Nicolas and to determine the condition of his eyes.
An absolute miracle: Nicolas in November and December 2008
Mid October 2008 Nicolas (we call him Nico) was still completely dependent. He apprehended his surroundings shadowy only and had to be taken by the hand when walking; his steps were hereby still very clumsy. He sat apathetic between the other children and had to be fed. From time to time he followed movements of persons in his visual field but did not communicate self-motivated with anyone. He was not capable to let us know his needs like the necessity to go to the bathroom. Indisposition he signalised not with words but by crying like a far smaller child.
Begin November a small miracle began to show. All his shortcomings switched completely. Nico speaks Swahili only but can now communicate his needs. He eats by himself with spoon and fork and acts amongst the other children. Thus he defends objects he is momentarily playing with, even his toothbrush if accidentally taken by another child. Furthermore, he moves about freely on the Nice View area.
Nico's vision seems to have improved significantly and also his eye is less blear and scarry compared to the days when he came from the hospital to Nice View. Nicolas is still visually handicapped and not yet able to recognise letters. However, he takes notice if small objects fall on the ground and picks them up. In addition, he can distinguish small colour fields that adjacent and can identify patterns. He can recognise faces and turns towards the „Mama" he wants to communicate with.
All these changes and improvements are still ongoing and we are full of hope that there will be further progress and that he will make friends. In the group he still needs some support and is for example still a little clumsy when dancing. However, with the support of the older Nice-View-Girls he is integrated and learns.
As also the eye clinic confirmed, Nicos visual handicap is the result of an extreme malnutrition, especially caused by a vitamin A deficiency. Due to the vitamin-rich food in Nice View, the living together with other children and the care of the „Mamas" and other guardians Nico has made quite some progress.
In January 2009 Nico will be examined on a regular cycle in the eye clinic and then we will know for sure if his eyesight has really improved or if Nico has just learned to use his poor sight more effective due to the intense assistance in Nice View.
July 2009: Since some month already, Nico happily joins the other children for kindergarten and speaks English already quite well. He has now smart, red glasses with which it is possible to compensate his visual handicap (scars on the retina). We were told the glasses work like a mirror. Therefore, to our great pleasure, it looks like Nico can attend school like a not handicapped child. Also when romping around or playing tag – for security reasons without glasses - we do not have the impression that he is vital restricted.
November 2010: Unfortunately, Nico is becoming more and more a lone wolf who prefers playing all alone instead with the other children. Mainly this has to do with his somewhat difficult character and less with his handicap. We hope this will change again. He is now in the reception class (preschool).
April 2012: Nico is a difficult child, and the guardians and teachers get often exasperated with him. He is now in the 1st class, but does not follow instructions what hinders the learning progress. It is, therefore, not a surprise that he is not a good performer. Furthermore, we are a bit worried since he is quite violent. Still a lot of work ahead of us!
October 2013: Nico suffers from recurring epileptic seizures. Our co-workers deal with it in the meantime in a very professional manner and Nico gets specific drugs to reduce the number of epileptic seizures to the extent possible. He has problems to keep up in school and is now in class 2, what has certainly to do with the fact that he does not see as well as the other children. We will take care that he will be promoted individually.
January 2014: A new chance for Nico?!
That’s a least what we hope and wish for him.
Nico was downgraded to Reception Class due to his mental and visual weakness at the ending of the school year.
He received the past 3 months remedial education, has made some progress, but is not really in good hands at the Nice View Gratitude Academy, since the teachers are no special education teachers and can most of the times not respond to the diverse restrictions of children with special needs.
After careful deliberation and in search of a suitable school we came across the Likoni School for the Blind and Visual Impaired. During an extensive conversation with the headmistress and the occupational therapist, Carmen, a studied and skilled social pedagogue in the area of visual impairment and mental deficiency, could conclude that this school could be a good option for Nico.
In the Kwale Eye Center the eye specialist confirmed that Nico has no progressing eye disease – what made us very happy- but that he is quite visually impaired. He also advised the school in Likoni, since he made positive experiences with that school.
Hence Gudrun and Henry accompanied Nico, equipped with his new school uniform, to the school in Likoni on January 15th 2014. They wanted to get an idea by themselves and discuss further details.
It is important to monitor if Nico is really in good hands there – the school premises and accommodations are fine, good equipped and the costs are reasonable. We keep our fingers crossed but miss Nico already now.
March 2014: We visit Nico from time to time in Likoni to retain his affinity with his siblings and to monitor his development. He is still homesick, but has settled in well and has made first friends.
January 2016: Following his severe scalds at school in Likoni in 2015 (as previously reported), Nico has returned to Nice View and stayed ever since. He's still unable to tell us what had happened. This is a true challenge for the teachers and us, especially because Nico can be quite complicated. We hope to find a special needs teacher who works exclusively with children like Antony and Nico.
February 2019: Thanks to a dedicated kindergarten teacher, it has been discovered that Nico can see and read red writing much better than black. So it is now somewhat easier for him to keep up in school and he is at the moment in class 3. Unfortunately, he still has regular seizures.