I am continuing to write blog pieces although I have had no internet service which prevents me from posting them. We have had no power for two evenings in a row now- I am getting quite good at navigating the hospital grounds in the dark.
Today was a special day for me. I arrived at St Jude in the morning with paper and crayons ready to spend some time drawing and talking with the children. My plans soon changed though, as I had the pleasure of finally meeting Samuel Odwong- the director of Consolation Home.
Consolation Home, which is a part of St. Jude’s orphanage and primary school, is a place where children with special needs are cared for. New homes were recently built for these children, and the older homes are currently under renovation. Much like the orphanage, children live in family homes with one mother and six to eleven children. There is also one “auntie” that works between all the families. The children, whose disabilities allow, attend classes at the primary school with the other students.
This institution represents a huge shift in understanding and acceptance when it comes to children with special needs. For a long period of time, children with special needs were considered “cursed” or “evil” and were often taken out of their villages and left to die somewhere. Caregivers were impossible to find as people believed if you cared for a child with disabilities, you would then have a child with disabilities of your own. Now that Samuel has his Consolation Home up and running, these ideas are being challenged.
Samuel greeted me warmly as he was rushing to his car. He told me he was going out into the community and asked me if I would like to join him. I did, of course. It turns out Samuel’s respect and dedication towards these children reaches beyond the walls of Consolation Home and straight into the villages in the community surrounding St. Jude. According to Samuel, there are around 360 children living with disabilities in the area. This is a frightening statistic when you consider how these children have been treated in the past.
On our drive to the village, which took several hours, Samuel spoke animatedly about the work he is doing in the community and his hopes and dreams for the future of Consolation Home. We were joined by two other employees of the home- Brenda and Jackson. Brenda is a full time nurse on staff and Jackson was doing the driving.
Samuel has five groups of parents he works with in five different areas of the community- three more groups will soon be added. These people are alike in as they all have children with special needs. Samuel meets with each group once a month. He takes this time to train the parents on best practices in regards to caring for their children. Previous topics have included feeding, sleeping, mobility and the distribution of medicine.
On this particular day, however, Samuel was not doing any teaching. He was starting a new micocredit program with these families to pave the way for their future financial independence. Samuel gave each family 25kg (55 pounds) of seeds. Their agreement states that the seeds will be planted and each family will sell their crop to St. Jude in hopes of maintaining a stable income. All families agreed to these stipulations, and each member of the group signed their name pledging to follow through. For those who were unable to write their own name, Samuel colored their thumbs with a pen and they gave a fingerprint to signify their agreement.
In addition to training the parents on how to care for their children with special needs, Samuel also brings medicine for the people in the community suffering from epilepsy. Despite the fact these drugs are being dispensed in a village and not a hospital, the process is carefully monitored. Brenda, the nurse traveling with us, brings records of each patient with her to maintain systematic record keeping. Each patient is weighed, the scale also brought by Brenda, and weight is recorded to monitor fluctuations and ensure accurate dosage. The patients also have an important role in this process. They have each been given a notebook and pen in which to record their personal health. Every single day the date must be written and then tally marks are made to represent the number of seizures a person is having. Each family has been trained extensively to understand this process, and everyone follows it. What a rewarding experience for patients to have the ability to be active participants in their health and medical treatment. Samuel visits each of his groups on a monthly basis.