Magdaline is a typical 6-year-old – playful, curious and always smiling.
But her mother Pamela Nangila remembers just a few years ago when Magdaline, who was born deafblind after contracting congenital rubella, was too frail to eat and unable to communicate.
"I didn't know what to do or where to begin to help my dear daughter," said Nangila, who lives in Nairobi, Kenya. "I felt forsaken and abandoned with no one to turn to for support."
Magdaline and her mother found the help they desperately needed at the Kilimani Deafblind Unit, which was founded in 1995 as a support group for parents of children with deafblindness. It has since expanded to provide an array of educational and support services for 19 students who are deafblind. The unit now operates out of the Kilimani Primary School in Nairobi.
Perkins International has supported the Deafblind Unit since its inception by offering expertise in the form of staff consultations and teacher-training workshops.
Magdaline began attending an early intervention program at the Deafblind Unit in 2011. Since then, she has increased her physical strength and blossomed into an intelligent and independent student who loves to interact with her teachers and peers.
"She is a darling to everyone in the program," said Mary Maragia, director of the Kilimani Deafblind Unit and a graduate of Perkins International's Educational Leadership Program (ELP), which provides advanced training and leadership development to promising international educators who serve children who are deafblind or visually impaired with additional disabilities.
Maragia graduated from the ELP in 2012 and increased her skills and knowledge in all aspects of deafblind education.
"Through her expertise gained at Perkins, Mary has transformed the Kilimani Deafblind Unit into one of the best deafblind centers in Kenya," said Angela Affran, Africa program coordinator for Perkins International.
Magdaline was born with cataracts, hearing loss, motor difficulties and a heart defect. Her low birth weight made feeding extremely difficult. She struggled to move, let alone swallow, and as a result became malnourished.
But at the Deafblind Unit, Magdaline has benefited from strength exercises and lessons in communication, orientation and mobility, early literacy and numeracy skills.
Because she only has very limited sight in the corner of her left eye, Magdaline enjoys exploring her teachers' faces with her hands. She also loves the color red and will bring red objects like toys and cups close to her eye to observe them with wonder. If her teacher is dressed in red, Magdaline will watch closely and playfully climb up on her lap or shoulders.
Magdaline has made great progress thanks to the Deafblind Unit. She has learned to walk and can sit without assistance and feed herself.
"I never imagined that my daughter would sit independently at any given time, let alone sit at a table and eat a meal," said Nangila. "She can now walk and I am proud to hold her hand from the school gate as we walk up to the Deafblind Unit. Coming to school has helped improve the life of my child."