by Derek James
It was three years ago when I introduced you to Mawunyo, a girl from Ghana, who lived her life in a washing basket.
Born with cerebral palsy it was where she had been taken soon after being born. She was then 17 years old.
A shocking photograph which illustrated the kind of life that boys and girls born with a disability are condemned to in many parts of the world.
They are described as ‘devil children’ and ‘spirit children’.
“Both terms,” says Anna Cottrell, former teacher at Flegg High School, Martham, “tell us that a child is not worthy of consideration and certainly does
It was Mawunyo and many others like her who inspired Carrie Brown, an American living in Ghana, to get in touch with Anna in Norwich to see if she was interested in joining with her to raise awareness of the rights of these children and then start providing for their needs.
“How could I hesitate,” said Anna.
Some years ago she had been on a three-month visit to the West African country as a volunteer and had written a book, Once Upon a Time in Ghana, which was an award-winning best-seller resulting in her being invited to Washington to pick up the honour.
The profits were ploughed back into the country to help the people in different ways but now the fight is on to open what will be a truly special place.
“After a long battle we acquired land in 2016 and were awarded a grant by Australia Aid to build a Resource and Assessment Centre to which mothers could bring their children for help,” explained Anna.
“We had the building but no equipment for the children. So in September 2018, with support from the Rotary Club of Norwich, I organised a Come and Sing event at the United Reformed Church in Princes Street, Norwich.
“I had wonderful support from singers in and around Norwich with all the funds going towards the cost of transporting a 40ft container jammed full of paediatric equipment to the town of Ho in Ghana.
“The transformation in the lives of children who had hitherto been condemned to lying on the ground has been incalculable. Their joy is overwhelming,” said Anna.
Not only that, but the local medical practitioners are now learning how to use equipment they had never seen before.
There is also a constant flow of doctors, nurses and therapists between the Resource Centre and the teaching hospital with the children and their families being recognised as real people for the first time.
“Fear and prejudice are being replaced by interest and excitement as this new confidence is spreading through neighbouring communities and more parents are bringing their children to help.”
Now student therapists are requesting a placement in Ho because this is the only place where they will have hands-on access to such equipment.
“Yes,” said Anna, “we have managed to bring some real help and joy into these young lives but we know they deserve more.
“Schools will not accept them. Being upright and learning to walk is one thing but education is a step too far, a step that cannot be taken. How can a deaf child learn? A child without sight? A Downs Syndrome child? How can wheelchairs be allowed in school?” she asks
Anna explained that tired of fighting these battles, they are now building their own school, an inclusive school where local children both with and without a disability will receive an education appropriate to their needs.
This is the only way to break and banish the prejudices which prevent these children from playing their full part in society.
It will be Ghana’s first Inclusive School and will be next to the Resource and Assessment Centre.
Once again Australia Aid have given a grant for the building but it will remain an empty shell unless they can provide essential teaching and learning equipment.
“We in the developed world are aware of the wealth of expertise and resources which are available to help teach children with diverse needs and as global citizens surely we can start to share some of this,” said Anna.
And this is where WE come in.
Children from the Special Schools in Norwich and Norfolk are gathering together in Eaton Park on Thursday, September 30 between 10.30am and 12.30pm to show just what they can do.
The event is called BECAUSE WE CAN and will be filmed and sent to the children in Ghana to give them hope that, one day, they too will be able to shout BECAUSE WE CAN.
“We have been enthralled by the achievement of the Paralympians. Now you are invited to come and show your appreciation of the achievements of our local children. My thanks go to Norwich City Council for their help in this venture,” said Anna.
The Rotary Club of Norwich is backing and supporting all these endeavours – be they in Norfolk or Ghana – and will be ready to receive any donations you may wish to make to help the once-forgotten children in Ho.
Let’s give the children with a disability the chance of an education…and a future.