Kennedy Ng’ang’a: Kenya Artist and Disability Advocate

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Who is Kennedy Ng’ang’a?

Our friend Reveca Torres, an artist and the creator of BACKBONES, recently created an exhibition in Chicago starring artwork from people with spinal cord injuries, including the work of Kennedy Ng’ang’a. Reveca and Kennedy remain close, with Kennedy saying she’s “like a sister.”

When Kennedy Ng’ang’a was young, he was a high school swimming champion in Mombasa, in East Africa. The plan was never a life in a wheelchair, but then, life rarely goes exactly as planned. A diving accident in 1992 sent him to the hospital, and once he was sent home two years later paralyzed from the waist down, his mother became his full-time caregiver.

He searched for something productive to do after the accident. After his father’s passing, Kennedy moved with his mother to a small house with an earthen floor. Though he had been mobile in a wheelchair, he was now rarely out of bed because of the inaccessibility of the new house.

Kennedy Ng'ang'a poses with a commissioned painting.
Kennedy Ng’ang’a poses with a commissioned painting from the local Rotary Club, to which he is an honorary member.

Mombasa is a coastal town in Kenya and it’s very expansive. Kennedy wakes up and immediately prays. It is rare that Kennedy even leaves his bed, so this is where he paints. Painting is his main source of income, and his skill and speed continue to improve every day.

Things were stable for a while for Kennedy, but in 2011, the unthinkable happened. Kennedy’s mother passed away. “I thought it was the end of me,” Kennedy said in an interview with New Mobility Magazine, as she was both his mother and his sole caregiver.

To honor her, he began the Momma Kennedy Mission, a foundation that started by coordinating the donation of a goat and a chicken to families in the nearby town of Bamba. Now, the foundation has grown to donating basic carpentry equipment, food, clothes, toys, and more.

The Momma Kennedy Mission Continues

After visiting Bamba many times, Kennedy’s attention was brought to three blind girls. Nuru, Amina, and Kwekwe were so poor that they couldn’t pay the fees to go to school. Nuru and Amina were also albino and had never even had access to something as simple as sunblock. Momma Kennedy stepped in and made sure the girls were able to attend school like their peers. Since then, other children who have either lost their parents, are struggling with a disability, or are too poor are now able to continue their education with money donated by Momma Kennedy.

Kennedy completes commissioned works of art and the profits earned help him complete the foundation’s work. Kennedy reports having completed around 600 pieces since he started painting. “Anyone from any corner of the world wishing to own any of my artworks or commission anything on any media and size can contact me through my art page or email,” he said.

Bamba families line up to receive donations from the Momma Kennedy mission
Bamba families line up to receive donations from the Momma Kennedy mission.

A portion of the profits also fund the construction of an accessible home, so that he can more easily enter and exit his house independently and spend more time with the communities he helps.

“For the last five years, I have been working on a better disability-friendly home for myself,” he said. “It will also be my art studio and gallery as well. It will also be a command center for the Momma Kennedy group projects.”

His dream is set to come true, as he will finally get to move in before the end of this year.

How to Keep Up With Kennedy

Kennedy keeps an active Facebook page and posts his charitable work and paintings for sale here. Many donations come through his followers and allow the Momma Kennedy organization to feed members of the community during droughts, hold Christmas feasts, and provide wheelchairs and crutches to people who need them. As his mobility increases, there’s no telling how many more individuals and families he can help.

Kennedy continues to act as a conduit for charitable donations in the area and a champion of disability awareness. If you would like to commission a painting or donate to help the staggering need in Bamba, visit Kennedy’s art page here or purchase work here.