Wanja Is Coca-Cola’s Africa Lets Go Crazy Woman Of The Moment!

Posted on August 29th, 2013
Categories: News

WANJA- J pegEntrepreneur and charity founder Hannah Wanja Maina lives in Kenya and campaigns on a wide range of issues. She is currently studying at the United StatesInternationalUniversity in Nairobi, pursuing a bachelor degree in International business administration.

Hannah makes curios and beads to sell locally, this helps to fund her education: “my family don’t have very much money, so I decided to take the initiative and find a source of income,” says the 21-year old.

The dedicated campaigner also helped make a documentary about the lives of disabled people living in Kibera, one of Africa’s biggest slums.  The slum has no publically accessed piped water, no government schools or health services and few permanent buildings other than wooden shacks with mud floors. “Life is tough and people are living in a cycle of drugs, crime, poverty and lack of opportunities,” says Hannah who is a dedicated volunteer with the charity Shinning Hope for Communities. “Disabled people in the slums are often hidden away by their families and victims of violence. They cannot get accommodation as landlords refuse to rent out rooms to them leaving them homeless. Stigma and denial of basic rights reduces them to a life of poverty and isolation.”

Hannah recollects a story an eight year-old disabled boy who died after being hidden by his family and had never been outside. Sadly, these stories are far too common. “Imagine being confined to a room every day and told you cannot go outside and play,” says Hannah who is part of Young Voices, a programme that brings together campaigners from 20 countries around the world. They actively influence events and government policies by giving disabled people a voice.

As a disabled woman herself, Hannah has experienced discrimination first hand and knows how vital it is to provide encouragement and most importantly be a role model to children. She works as a mentor at a girls’ school in Kibera. “The young people I talk to are often very bright and have lots of potential but their circumstances mean they are unable to get to school or start their own business or even get into the labor market. I provide a listening ear and give them advice and encouragement, which is something they have never had.”

Another Young Voices campaign that Hannah is passionate about is her work with African albinos. Many locals believe that there are magical properties in the blood, bones and skin of people with albinism, a medical condition in which the body produces little or no pigment.

“Witch doctors spread the false belief that expensive concoctions made from albino limbs, hair and skin will bring good luck. What they don’t know, and need to be educated about, is why albinos are pale skinned. They are hunted, killed and dismembered with body parts being sold to witch doctors. It is also believed that if a man with HIV has sex with an albino he will be cured. This superstition has increased the number of rape cases and infection rate of albinos with HIV,” explains Hannah. She has recently supported a person with albinism to share their story with the media and help raise awareness of how it has affected their life. She is also talking to people locally to help change attitudes to the condition and dispel the myths surrounding it.

In addition to shocking attacks, albinos often die from painful skin cancer as sun cream is expensive and they often come from poor families. Hannah says: “It is very sad to see people walking around with burnt skin and severe spots on their faces, knowing it could have been prevented if they had sun cream.”  She is currently raising awareness via social media about making sun cream free or at an affordable price.

WANJA- J pegHannah is currently celebrating the first milestone of this campaign: “The number of albinos living in Africa is not known at the moment, but we are delighted as the government has agreed to officially record and monitor these statistics. Once they have an idea of numbers more action can be taken to support people with albinism.”

Since Hannah joined Young Voices she has actively participated in a number of activities in Kenya such as influencing local leaders and policy makers to create employment opportunities for disabled people and make education accessible for all. One example of this is working with local schools to highlight how one small adjustment can transform the life of a disabled person. “Providers think they have to invest lots of money on a new accessible bus, when something basic like a ramp on an existing bus is all that is needed to get a child to school,” explains Hannah.

Education is something that Hannah feels strongly about and as a result of this decided to take action in her local town and make education more accessible for disabled children. She is the founder of the ‘Friends of Wanja Initiative,’ a mentorship programme at Joy-town primary schoolwhich supports people with disabilities to feel empowered to learn. She is proud of its success and hopes that it will continue to change the lives of many more young disabled people.

Hannah is also working to change the exam criteria for young people with learning disabilities. “The exams are very focused on writing and maths, which discriminates against people who have other talents such as music or arts. Often disabled children are unable to get a further education because they didn’t pass the exam. An important part of my role is talking to the children, helping to build their self esteem and highlight that their skills are equally important and valued.”

Hannah also works as a Peer Educator, which involves talking to disabled people about some of the misconceptions that exist around HIV/AIDS and provide advice and guidance on how they can access medical support. “Disabled women are the most vulnerable as they are at risk of sexual violence or rape.”