Having blogged yesterday about one particular person related to Berhan Lehetsanat, it seems only fair to give a bit of background to the organization, and blow their trumpet on some of the other amazing work they are doing.
Berhan Lehetsanat is an Ethiopian NGO and the name is Amharic for Children of Light. Its focus is primarily on accessing education and health for disabled children, although it has branched out to assisting non-disabled children from disadvantaged backgrounds to also access education.
The past three days Natalie and I have had the privilege of meeting some of the staff and beneficiaries of BL and through a few stories of those we met, I hope I can begin to do justice to their incredible work.
One of their main programmes is Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), and within this they run community awareness and outreach events based around the coffee ceremony, challenge attitudes and misconceptions, and liaise with parents of disabled children to discuss the options available to the children.
This in itself is a massively important part of the work; we met with a group of CBR workers today who were saying that the biggest challenge to the families of disabled children is the negative attitude of the wider community, who , particularly in Orthodox areas, usually consider the disability to be a punishment from God and so tend to outcast the whole family.
Bearing this in mind imagine how hard it was for the mum of Maharat, an 8 yr old girl we met who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and intellectual disability. Three diagnoses, and therefore potentially three punishments? Not surprisingly when BL met Maharat, she hadn’t been outside very much, and as mum had never had any assistance or professional input, Maharat just lay on a bed, or on the floor. Yes she was loved very much, but mum had no idea how to care for her.
Thanks to BL’s support and input, Maharat has received physio, a suitable wheelchair, and an ongoing supply of nappies to help mum deal with the incontinence. Maharat is also now on medication for her epilepsy, and mum has had training from the physio regarding ongoing care, muscle stretches, and exercises. BL installed a ramp at the local school, gave training to the teachers regarding inclusive education and provided other resources so that Maharat was enabled to attend school.
When we visited Maharat and her mum, it was a very happy visit. They live in a very small, poor home, but it is a home and the love oozes out of it. Maharat was sitting on the bed, and with mum’s help she showed me how she could walk across the room. The wheelchair isn’t used much now as the distance to school is short enough that Maharat can walk there with the help of two people. She was laughing and smiling, and had great fun taking selfies on my phone!
Without BL the picture would have been very different, and Maharat’s story on its own is testimony to the great work BL are doing.
Another girl we met was Yenenesh Rasa. She is 6yrs old, and was born with a club foot. She lives with her farming family in a rural area some 10 – 12 miles outside of Hawassa. Thatched roof and mud walls type house, there is no electricity, no running water, and her parents are illiterate. So not surprising that they didn’t know that the corrective procedure for club foot is really quite straightforward, and instead Yenenesh spent her first 3 years crawling round on a deformed foot, and deforming it, and the shin bones, further as she grew.
Thankfully, when Yenenesh was about 3 years old, a BL CBR field officer came to the area. Mum was brave enough to take her daughter to see the BL worker, who immediately confirmed that treatment was available, albeit in Addis for the surgery side of things.
Berhan Lehetsanat covered the cost of transport to Addis, the surgery, and has provided the orthotic appliances and physio treatment that Yenenesh required. It took 7 hospital stays to get all the deformities sorted out, but when we visited today we were greeted by a shy but independently-walking 6 year old. BL to the rescue once again!
I think that gives a good idea of the impact Berhan Lehetsanat is having. I could give more stories as retold to us today at the CBR workers meeting but instead I’ll briefly mention some of the other things they are doing:
- teacher training and support regarding inclusive education, for student teachers at the training college, and for qualified teachers at inset sessions
- provision of materials, resources and adaptations to school buildings to make the schools accessible, including Braille books, resources for intellectually disabled, other learning materials for visually impaired
- provision of orthotics and physio for children following surgery, plus other appliances for children of various disabilities eg glasses for visually impaired, wheelchairs and specialized seating, hearing aids etc
- provision of Alternative Based Education centres for children grades 1 – 3 who can’t attend school as the nearest one is so far away. BL have set up 7 of these ABE’s and the government are so impressed they are now taking them over and upgrading them all into full primary schools as the need has been so clearly demonstrated
- Income generation Activites for adults – this is in recognition of the fact that poverty in itself is a massive factor in curtailing the rehab of the children, and so to empower the mothers is crucial. In all there are about 2500 women enrolled in the various BL microfinance schemes
- Functional adult literacy for parents – again to help empower the parents and better equip them to gain independence.
And there’s more, but I think this gives a fairly comprehensive overview for now. A really inspiring organization, run and staffed by people who are passionate about their work, and the issues of disability and inclusivity.
My prayers go out to them all, that they will be blessed in their work and in their lives, as they are a blessing to others, and my prayers go out to all the beneficiaries and their families, as they continue to rebuild lives that now have hope were once there was despair.