|One area of our educational system in Ghana which seems to be forever forgotten is the education of our children with special needs. Many years ago, children born in Ghana with autism were either put to death or abandoned in a bush or by a stream due to the primitive belief of some that they were abominations from the gods and therefore not fit to live among humans. There were no well-structured schools or institutions in this country to provide care for and research on children with autism and intellectual disabilities.
Today, child psychologists, social researchers and professionals from academia and other organisations, come from near and far to visit the Rural Integrated Relief Service-Ghana. Here, they can observe, study, and research cases of children with autism and intellectual disability. The story of Rural Integrated Relief Service-Ghana began with the unfortunate case of Mr. Emmanuel Dzadeyson’s first child, Cindy. Born a normal, beautiful, and active baby, Cindy was diagnosed at 24 months of age with malaria. This seemingly simple ailment resulted in her being paralyzed on the right side of her body and in a loss of speech soon after she was administered several doses of Chloroquine.
Some four years later in America, doctors examined Cindy and discovered that she had encephalitis as a result of which she had become mentally retarded. Her parents went through immense anguish, pain, and heartbreak, rushing her from one treatment to another as instructed by doctors.
With the help of a special school which focused on providing students with individualized care and attention, Cindy was able to learn to read and write. This gave her parents hope that other children with similar conditions could also improve with special education and inspired them to found an organization called Rural Integrated Relief Service-Ghana.
Registered as a voluntary charity and a non-profit, non-governmental organization, Rural Integrated Relief Service-Ghana was established to provide assistance and support to families of children who through no fault of their own entered this world with intellectual disability and autism.
We believe that the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, the Special Education Unit of the Ghana Education Service, and the Department of Social Welfare need to assist with the education and training of children with autism and intellectual disability in Ghana. Given the way that we as a society in Ghana perceive any form of disability, it is probably not surprising that the government has not offered any assistance to our organization since its inception in 2004, despite the critical role that it is playing in the lives of intellectually challenged children.
With the majority of our students coming from needy homes and single-parent households, our school fees must be kept modest and are not sufficient to support school operations. Therefore the school depends on sponsorships and donations raised through fundraising events organized by parents. We urgently need funds to construct the ICT Centre for our children with autism in Ghana and to hire teachers with specialized training to meet the special needs of the student population.
When completed, our program will have an academic department and a vocational department. The academic department will provide basic education on an individualized basis for children between the ages of four and 17 years who have some developmental delays. Refreshingly, from this point, some children will be able to graduate into normal schooling. Our curriculum includes reading, mathematics, music, painting, computer studies, dancing, religious education, and moral education.
Our adult students with special needs are also given vocational training in skills such as basket-weaving and other crafts. Items created by our vocational students include batik tie and dye beadworks and foot and barstools. These items are sold to the public and instill in our students a sense of achievement. For the general public, this is an opportunity to extend a helping hand by supporting a child’s education.
Rural Integrated Relief Service-Ghana has shown that when provided with access to special education and individualized attention, these disadvantaged children with autism and related disabilities can lead meaningful lives. We can no longer afford to neglect their education.
Rural Integrated Relief Service-Ghana
The views expressed in this story are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.