Kurt Fearnley the  Olympic games gold medalist and world champion  last week visited Ruben centre for the second time now.

In 2013 he visited Ruben Centre and it was pre Special Needs Unit days, but he clearly left a challenge for us around the needs of kids with Special disabilities .

So in 2015, I had listened to so many stories about children with disabilities locked away in their home, and just knew it was time. 

We are the people to help.

 Over the subsequent  three and half years, the unit has grown in numbers, rooms, equipment, services, staff and fame to where it is today.

In coming back to Ruben Centre, Kurt fulfilled a promise made to  me  some years ago,’ When I retire I will come back and see how MY Centre is going.”

And last year 2018 Kurt did retire……………….

 Kurt Fearnley ends career with Commonwealth Games goldy

Michael Gleeson

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 Kurt Fearnley of Australia wins the Mens T54 Marathon during the XXI Commonwealth Games.CREDIT:AAP

Kurt Fearnley’s career can be defined by numbers, by medals, by victories. By what he has overcome and what he has achieved.

It can also be defined by what he said when he won gold in the marathon – another gold and another marathon - at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in his last appearance for Australia:

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“If I can say anything to the next people coming up wearing the green and gold, when you get near a microphone, when you speak, err on the side of kindness, how about that? And if you can get here, bring your family with you, bring people with you because it makes it so much more worthwhile.

“I have loved every minute of these games.”

The day, the response, and the emotion sums up Fearnley’s career as much as any list of medals. And the list of medals is long. He ends his international career with three gold, seven silver and three bronze at Paralympic Games, four golds and a bronze at the world championships and now three golds and three silvers at the Commonwealth Games.

That Fearnley would finish on the Gold Coast with the fairytale gold medal looked anything but romantic hopeful fiction within minutes of the start. He dominated the field to win in 1:30.25.

He had only narrowly missed gold on the track in the 1500m but this time he eclipsed the field.

“I have received so much from so many people … and all you can do is really try and give back and that was an hour and 30 of giving back. That hurt mate, I have got nothing else,” he said.

“I checked my heart rate and I had an average of 194 including a minute before the start, I was working hard.

“People kept yelling different things but it got me scared someone would say 'you have 2 minutes' break' then someone would say 'you have 10 seconds'. When I did the U-bolt I saw where they were and I thought ‘it’s going to take a fair effort to catch me’ because the wind was blowing up in front as well. I thought 'put the heart rate on and stick it there, stick it there'.

“When I was climbing up that last hill I think I got to 211 (heart rate) and I thought if I am going 211 I hate to think what the guy who is going to bring me back in is going to sit on.

“It’s bloody awesome, mate … you see the emotion on your family’s face and sharing that with people it’s just full on, mate. The thought you can be a part of people feeling so much joy it is just overwhelming.”……….

The Visit

Kurt not one to do things in half measures,  returned  on Monday 25th February,  with eighteen other Australians to open the Centre that bears his name.

Great excitement  was  the order of the day and here is my speech.

“Her Excellency Australian High Commissioner for Kenya and our honorable Women Reperesentative Nairobi County,  Madam Esther Passaris and all invited Guests.


 We are the People, The Time is now, and the children and their families with disabilities are the winner’s today-

My main duty is to offer a word of thanks for the people who have rallied around Ruben Centre today for this occasion.

But firstly a word on disability in Kenya-

 In Kenya disability is largely associated with shame and hidden away from mainstream society.

Shame for the families especially shame for the mothers. 

 For a struggling mother and family dealing with disability, the main focus can be hiding the child or adult and surviving best as they can by making them invisible. Here at Ruben Centre we are turning that notion on its head and making disability visible. 

 Our  Centre vision  is for ‘a just and empowered Mukuru Community’ and this is clearly influenced by the vision of the Christian Brothers who seek to serve  the poor and people on the fringe of our community and  if being poor puts a person on the  edge  being poor  and  also with a disability can  easily send them over  the edge.

So disability is centre stage for the Christian Brothers.

 Accurate statistics around disability in Kenya are hard to  find  and I will not go there, (but leave that to the Symposium on Wednesday ) however it could be as low as 19% of  children with disability are accessing Secondary Education and we would hope it might be double that for primary education.

 Many barriers continue to lock out those with disability, but here at Ruben Centre since 2015,  we have torn down the barriers and created a level playing field.

Integration   and equality is our vision,  (First thing I did in 2015 when I started  this Unit  was to have these students wearing the school uniform) and all of you are here today  to show your support to these  fundamental  values.

 Now ……..


 Allow me to thank  sincerely  her Excellency Madam Allison Chartres the Australian High Commissioner for Kenya.    We are delighted you  were so open to our invitation and so generous with  the High Commissions financial support for these few days of activities that will promote the cause of disability in Kenya .  I came in mid 2010 and no Australian High Commissioner so much as darkened the Ruben doors for eight years, but you have come along in 2018 and now this is your second visit… (no barriers ?)

To Ruben best political Ally Honorable Ester Passaris, I say again welcome (you were here June 2nd last year to open the birthing unit and I am sure you will visit it again today and do a baby count.  Well over 500 mothers have poured in here for the free maternity service and the number of babies should reach 500 before the end of this month. Just last week your office facilitated tuition support for our girls doing vocation training. We thank you and you are most welcome anytime and keep advocating for us.

 Our Australian visitors; they are the donors and supporters that make Ruben Centre visible in Australia and that social and financial support is the only reason Ruben is where it is today.

The Edmund Rice Foundation (CE0) here has kept the place alive since the year 2000 when the Christian Brothers took responsibility for Ruben.  Thank you all and enjoy your visit.

I wish to acknowledge the support to of all the Kenyan partners that are here today and who work with Ruben Centre for the sake of those with disabilities.

 I take the moment to thank all who have made  today possible. (the special needs teachers, carers, mothers children, musicians. Ruben Board members, entertainers,)

And this leaves only one person who has not been mentioned and of course it is -

 Kurt Fearnley – What a man ?   I referred earlier to barriers that prevent people with disability engaging fully in society and developing fully their abilities and I say again,’ What a man?” as you have blown away so many barriers to achieve what you have done in life thus far, and I know your commitment to be here indicates just how much you will continue to do for the cause of creating a level playing field for all.  Your book is called  PUSHING THE LIMITS and  you have lived every page of it by coming all this way to Ruben centre  and Kenya today…..Of course this is not your first visit and we hope not your last.

Thank you to you and of course we are delighted to have your mother here and after this opening Mum you and your boy Kurt will join our monthly mother’s forum that is a big part of knocking down the barriers.  …..

It is my pleasure to now invite you Kurt  to address us here today.

On the Wednesday we had a symposium at the Nairobi University to draw attention to the disability issue in Kenya. 

On the Thursday Kurt and his followers spent the day at Ruben interacting with the children, counting new babies and shopping for Ruben Centre made bargains.

 Finally on the Friday the whole collection of Australians were invited to  the Australian High Commission residence for a casual brunch, story telling and thank you.

What a week.

Thanks go to the organizing team led by the energetic and irrepressible Australian volunteer of ours Bev Watkinson.

Br. Frank


Ruben Centre