Alimatou S Bajinka
Ms Lucy Sarfo, the Principal of the Gambia Methodist Special School has lodged an appeal for her school to be allocated more school buses. Currently, their school has only one school bus for all its students which remains a challenge for students education. Methodist Special School is one of the few schools focusing on teaching children with Down syndrome in the country.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder in a person which leads to physical growth delays and mild to moderate intellectual disability. Children with Down syndrome need special attention to aid their learning and can contribute meaningfully to society if provided the necessary care and attention.
The lack of mobility from home to school has kept some students on the waiting list said Principal Sarfo. “Some of our students are on the waiting list due to transportation problems, we have only one vehicle to carry all the students to and from school, so to reach out to every student in the country with only one vehicle becomes impossible especially those at Banjul and beyond. The only thing we can do is to put them on a waiting list and look for other means, that is to appeal to the government and also to some good Samaritans for support so that the differently-abled persons in Banjul and beyond can access the school without hindrance”.
According to the Principal, most parents cannot afford transportation fare weekly for their children which leads to many children with Down syndrome loitering around the streets begging and selling which exposes them to abuse.
Differently-Abled Children Need Sex Education Too
Meanwhile, Ms Phebian Ina Grant Sagnic, Senior Nursing Officer at the Ministry of Health said, Lot of children especially the differently-abled are prone to abuse in their homes and societies.
“I believe the differently able children are at higher risk of rape and other sexual abuses due to the lack of proper information. If all the students have access to education, that would widen their understanding about issues around them and of cause issues of abuse and sexual offences. There is a need to provide them with necessary support” said Ms Phebian.
According to the Senior Nurse, parents cannot be left out in the growth and upbringing of their children because they play a pivotal role in the lives of their children. Ms Phebian seized the opportunity to urge parents to have frequent open conversations with their children.
“Parents do not talk to their children on issues relating to sex and sexual abuses. Parents should be mindful of their children’s welfare, most especially when a child reaches the stage of puberty. When your child hits 15 and above, you will notice somebody features changing; the enlargement of the breast, when this happens the next stage that follows is the menstrual circle, which is an important stage in a girls life. I will advise parents when their children start producing such features, engage them directly into topics like how to take precautions before and when they see their menstruation, how to take care of themselves, how to prevent themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STIs” said the Senior Nurse.
Ms Phebian discouraged parents from speaking to children in parables because they would not understand, “rather communicate with your girl child in a clear and plain language for better understanding” she advised.
Avoid Isolating Differently-Abled Children
Addressing the discriminatory attitudes of parents towards children with Down Syndrome, the Vice President of the Parents Teachers Association of the School, Ms Fatou Jammeh urged parents to avoid discriminating against their differently able children.
“We the parents play a big role in the growth of our differently-abled children, giving certain privileges to the other children and isolating the differently able children, slow their growth and social interaction. All of them should be given equal rights and responsibilities, make them feel part of the society, teach them how to do their basic needs for themselves like; wearing their shoes, clothes, washing bowls etc all these will make them feel connected” said Ms Jammeh.
Ms Jammeh took the opportunity to launch an appeal for learning equipment when she urged the general public to come to their aid and support the school with school buses and electronic learning tools. In her view, “these children are slow learners and we live in a modern world, and we want them to feel part of the world” she said.
Ms Jammeh thanked the teachers for the relentless services they provide for these students, despite the low pay and the challenges they face in teaching and in taking care of the students, they continue to teach to the best of their ability.
Methodist Special School currently faces a lack of learning materials and transportation problems and are appealing to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, other donors, and philanthropists to come to the school’s aid and support them with learning materials.