The Engraced Ones is prayer support and advocacy initiative established three years exactly at April, 2015. The group is comprised of parents of children with special needs and other adults who love children with special needs. The main purpose of this group is to rally round one another as parents of these children and to sensitize the public about their condition while advocating for better health, education and good living condition of vulnerable children. The group in their wisdom refer to these children as engraced children and that was why the NGO goes by the name The Engraced Ones.
I met with the convener of the NGO Mrs. Biby Yinkere who is a parent to a child with special need in a programme she organized, which I was invited by a friend, after seeing what she and her group is doing for children living with cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disability etc, I decided to have a chat with her as my own way of adding a voice to her advocacy.
In this interview, she spoke on how it all started, the challenges of taking care of a child with special needs and the future plans for the group.
TQ: What inspired you to initiate this group?
It was God who inspired me. God specifically spoke to me about it and I followed his instruction. I move around the schools, churches, and I noticed that children with special needs are not enrolled in schools, they don’t accompany their parents to churches, parties and programmes and they are not in their family pictures. There is a lot of exclusion, all these convinced me that it was the right thing to do. The discrimination of the engraced child started from the home; so, I needed to educate these families that there is nothing demonic about the child. It is only a health condition. I understand that the perception of the parents of the children is key, for instance, when I had my child, my husband and I didn’t see her as less than a human and because of that, her siblings and our extended family members have high regard for her. This consequently increased her confidence level as she grows. Beyond the home, the schools do reject these children, the school authority needs to be enlightened to accept them because that will go a long way to encourage the parents to believe in these children and take them to school. There was also the need for parents to take these children to hospital for proper check-up and advice because they should understand that it is not a spiritual matter as the society most times presumes. The society needs to be enlightened to see beyond the physical looks of these children and see the human and beauty in them.
TQ: You emphasized on the need for the children to be enrolled in school, how easy is it for these children to go to school or is there challenges associated to their enrolment in school?
Firstly, the school authorities don’t want see them because it poses challenges to the teachers; for instance, children with down syndrome have special learning method which the regular school teacher may not have requisite training and skills to cope with. They are slow in learning and the children with cerebral palsy sometimes are more of physical thing. A child that can’t sit down properly, it will be a herculean task for our conventional schools with over 100 pupils to accommodate them. Again, the attitude of other parents through isolating their children from these children with special needs. For instance, children with autism that have some character traits like heating their head on something or jumping around at times. These parents assume that such is transferable and can be transferred to their children, so they don’t want their children to associate with such children. So, they threaten to withdraw their children if such a child is retained by the school authority. Then again, there was a school I wanted to enroll my daughter, the principal told me that it was not as if the school can’t take my child but the teachers are not always comfortable with this kind of children and if he insisted and she stays, she won’t get the desired love from the teachers.
TQ: Since these children with special needs are highly discriminated upon in our conventional schools, how do these children acquire formal education?
We have some special schools in Abuja here. We have school for the handicapped in Kuje, Abuja that has boarding facilities that accommodate all kinds of children with special needs, but it is not enough because it can’t cover the number of children with special needs in Abuja. Moreover, some of these children need physiotherapy and behavioural therapy at home before going to school. For instance, when a child is two years old, the child can’t fit into boarding facilities, so the child should be enrolled in a privately-owned school where the child will be firstly rehabilitated before the child will be enrolled into the big school. Sometimes, the child will be so rehabilitated to the extent that the child will have little or no problem to mainstream into big special schools. But the problem is that these private-owned special schools are very expensive. They charge between two hundred thousand naira (#200,000) to two hundred and fifty thousand naira (#250,000) monthly.
TQ: Do you have an idea why these special needs are very expensive considering their importance?
Yes, it is the cost of running these special schools. The owners have to engage the services of many caregivers, physiotherapists, speech therapists, special educators. These professionals are far-fetched, we don’t have much of them in Nigeria. For instance, a physiotherapy charge as much as seven thousand naira (#7,000) per day for a child. Again, the teaching style is like one-on-one basis and each child require a teacher for close monitoring and guidance and there are other facilities put in place to enhance their learning environment. These are the reasons why these special school are expensive, they need external assistance to make it affordable for those parents who can’t afford it.
TQ: The right for education as enshrined in our constitution is a right for every child, going by your earlier explanations, it is expensive to train a child with special needs in schools, is there any assistance from government you are aware of to ensure that these children acquire formal education?
It is the right of these children as you said even the whole world is promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is preaching leave no one behind, so every child must be carried along in the area of education and health. We have Ministry of Education and Health, they are knowledgeable about these issues and the onus is on them to do the right thing. May I use this medium to call on well to do individuals, companies/organizations to come to the aid of these children with special needs. Today, organizations are putting money and resources on programmes which has moral issues meanwhile there are cogent issues begging for their attention. Nothing is too small. In our group, we are putting together our little funds to support physiotherapy of those children who their parents can’t afford it. One major problem in our group is that some of the parents are not working due to the severity of their children condition which needs constant attention. We are empowering these parents so that they can directly take care of their needs and that of their children. We appeal to individuals and organizations to come in and take any of these measures to reach out to these children; sponsor physiotherapy services of some of these children, award scholarship to some of them or economically empower their parents. For instance, one of the children who got scholarship from our group, the mother just has makeshift shop at Kurudu with six children. Most times, she can’t even afford transport fee to attend our programmes at Maitama from Kurudu.
TQ: Have your group approached any agency of government for collaboration?
For now, we have not but we are taking step to do that. Why we delayed in doing that we want to move from where we are to a reasonable extent before we seek on how we can be helped.
TQ: What are your plans to expand your scope?
We will soon embark on social media campaign. We will be talking to some radio stations to use their medium to spread the message; we have started going to schools and churches to sensitize them. We will be embarking on prayer/sensitization walk, engage in fundraising because we want to set up a centre that will be providing affordable education for these children with special needs, provide vocation training for children with learning disabilities and the mothers of these children. Presently, we have one of their mothers being trained as a special educator who will in turn train other mothers.
TQ: What advice do you have for parents who have children with special needs but due to some reasons, they are still hiding them?
According to the bible, children are gifts from God. It is a known fact that it is demoralizing if you have a child with special needs because having carried a child for nine months and it came out this way. But believe me, there is a purpose for whatever that has happened. You have to accept it, don’t live in denial, move on with the child, take responsibility, look beyond what the doctors told you about the child if their comments are negative. For instance, my own child and many other children in our group have lived beyond the expectations of the doctors, support the child, seek professional advice, join support group like ours, read up about your child’s condition, understand the child better and make informed decision about the child’s future.
TQ: Please can you share with me some of those special attributes of these children with special needs?
They are very observant, intelligent, caring. They are first to notice something new around them; first to notice when you have a new pair of shoes, new hairdo and so on. They are peace lovers, they are very innovative.
TQ: Parting words?
I appreciate the work you are doing and God will reward your effort, keep it up.