In Sierra Leone, poor health care contributes to high rates of physical and mental disability. Widespread misunderstanding of disability complicated by the lack of health care or other public support services makes children with physical and mental disabilities some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Extensive poverty, traditional beliefs, and illiteracy often leave the affected children rejected or abandoned and seen as a curse on their family.
Enable the Children (ETC) is a team of local and expatriate staff who provide Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, care, and support services to approximately 800 children living with disabilities in Freetown, Sierra Leone. More than half of the children enrolled in ETC suffer from cerebral palsy; others include Down syndrome, autism, acquired brain injury, muscular dystrophy, orthopedic challenges, and many more.
ETC staff visit patients in their homes and teaches families and caregivers how to support children with disabilities using play, developmental positioning, and feeding support. This allows families the opportunity to learn to provide at-home care and treatment to children in a manner that is sustainable in their everyday lives. ETC also provides support for the family unit as they learn to look after the child and provide a loving, nurturing home life. As cultural beliefs lead many mothers to place blame upon themselves when a child is born with a disability, ETC works with mothers so they understand each child’s medical case and to reassure parents that they’ve done nothing wrong.
Additionally, ETC’s school sponsorship initiative supports school fees and uniforms, which afford children the otherwise unlikely opportunity to attend school. The program also provides small-business start-up grants to families who’ve had to change their pattern of work to allow for care to be provided for the child at home. Finally, ETC works with local carpenters, tailors, and technicians to provide specialized equipment for patients
ETC has helped turn more than 800 children’s lives around, despite still living with a disability. Some children have been given the opportunity to eat without the risk of choking thanks to better positioning, others have learned how to utilize and play with their hands, some have felt for the first time how it feels to sit upright or stand at eye level with their friends, and many can finally enjoy quality time with their parents, siblings, and neighbors.
ETC’s work with individual families is encouraging local community members to accept and support children with disabilities and their families. Ongoing visits show a commitment to patients and over time the program has seen surrounding populations grow more accepting of children with disabilities.