Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I visited a special education school when I was a sophomore. At that time, I was taught that the students at that school were sick, every faculty there focused on their weird behaviors and diagnoses, tried to fix them, but nobody cared about their quality of life, because they were abnormal. Some people draw a circle, everyone inside is normal, anyone outside should be fixed and reset, so that they can be brought into the circle. Failing that, they should be treated differently and pitied. Actually, these "special" people also have their dreams, all thing they need is respect and equal opportunity. Before this trip, I thought offering them equal opportunity is something good rather than something right. Now I realized that they have the same rights to enjoy their lives, everyone should help and give them what they want instead of what we think they need.

I also redefined "good school". I thought a good school should have enough resources, well trained teachers, high test score and graduation rate. However, when I was standing in the classrooms of the republic school, I felt that engagement is the most important. There was no wall between that two classrooms, but the teachers and students were so concentrated that nothing can interrupt. Teachers devoted to teaching and students were eager for knowledge, although they did not have beautiful classrooms nor enough resources. "Morning star" is a good school, the public school is also good, or even better.

I really enjoyed this trip, I learnt a lot and met some new friends. I wish this course could be longer than two weeks and I believe that disabilities in Ghana will have a bright future.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Power of Religion

In Ghana, religion can influence every aspect of life, including health and disabilities. People believe that evil behaviors cause illness. They think disability is a disease and a punishment, even disabilities themselves also think they are cursed. They think they should not exist, everyone should be healthy. Their bias are not only on the physical level e.g., think they are useless, consider them as burden because they need others' help and cannot do a lot of things, but emphasize more on the spiritual level, they are cursed, even after the physical handicaps are removed or fixed. They might be hidden in the closet or killed at young age.

Although the directer said that changing belief is hard, I think reversing the negative attitude is still possible. Using the power of religion, let religion leaders or authorities affect the followers. In the movie "Emmanuel's gift", The king in Ghana did change people's attitude to disabilities. I am not religious, I do not know why do people believe in religion, but I think everyone want a high quality of life and no one want to kill their babies under any circumstance. They did that because they did not know what else they could do and others were doing the same thing.

God should bless everyone.

Outlier or outsider

The autism center is professional and well managed. Practitioners there know a lot about autism and really care about these children. The sponsor is a mother of a boy with autism, she understands what these families with autistic children need and the appropriate way to help. I think they have the same definition of "rehabilitation" as ours, they not only care about the f working skills of children with autism, but their feelings and willingness as well.

Mothers usually take care of these children, but when they grow up, they have to be independent some day, they have to join into the whole society. Those who without disabilities should, not the children with autism, do something for inclusion. I really don't like the word "inclusion", why did them be excluded? When did them become "outsiders". Sometimes people repel differences, especially those they do not well-know and they think dangerous. Unfortunately, autism to most people in Ghana, is both unknown and dangerous, because people with autism have unpredictable and aggressive behaviors, which are hard to understand. But if one can see what the children with autism see, feel what they feel, he/she will realize that everything is reasonable. So the key point is that let unknown known and then accept it.

Children with autism are not good at communication or social contact, but they have interests and special skills. They will be very successful if we can help develop these interests and skills, they can work, they are able to be independent. 

Friday, January 11, 2013


The rehabilitation center in Ghana is totally different from what I thought. It is a "vocational school like" training center rather than a health care institute. Disabilities there are trained to make shoes, clothes, bags and sell these productions. After graduate, the may find a job or start their own business. The goal of rehabilitation for disabilities in Ghana is to help them survive with their handicap. In the past, people, even disabilities themselves, thought they were useless. Now, what they want and they need to do is to do whatever they can to survive. Although their rehabilitation is different from ours, but it do improve the disabilities' quality of life.

Base on the family model in Ghana, it is easier for disabilities live with extended family, because the whole family can take care of them. However, extended families are always in rural places, where lack of health services. So it is not accessible for them to get formal and professional health care.

More over, because there is a gap between them and the "normal" world, even they were well trained, they still might not be accepted. As an OT student, I am supposed to help them do what they want to do, however, in Ghana, it is hard to be successful, because of the policy and the attitude of general public. For example, I can help a disabled child who want to be a teacher achieve the requirements to be a teacher, but it is hard for him to get a certificate and find a job. Thus, raising the awareness of the government and general public is really important.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Arise and Shine

"Morning star, arise and shine!" It was really a good private school. They have many resources: beautiful buildings, big playground, two computer rooms, library, music classroom, home economic classroom, and students there can join a lot of clubs which they are interested in. They all have their own dreams and interest, and the school provides the resources they need to pursue their dreams. I met a girl in science classroom, she wanted to be a doctor, she was interested in biology, and she joined the science club. Another girl who wanted to be a artist,  joined a art club. Students there knew a lot about computers and Internet, they used computers to do assignments for other classes...

Everyone can study there if he/she wants to and they can afford the money. It seems like that most students there have a rich family. So if you have more money, you can have more resources, go to better school, get higher paid job, and then let your children go to a better school. It is a good circle, but for those who are not rich, or disabled children, they might be impossible to be educated. Everyone should get good education, but the resources are limited, it is too hard to achieve this goal at this time. So, should them build more schools for all children or build better schools for only part of them? Which one, quantity or quality? I prefer "quality first". If each family has at least one high-educated people, things will be better, the one can make more money and can help other family members.

They also face another problem: special education for disabilities. Although they have been  progressing steadily during last several years and have had a big perfect plan, both quantity and quality of special education still can meet the need. Some people even do not think disabilities need education in this country. Something should be done to raise the awareness of general public. And compare to general education, special education requires  more resources and higher standard. I think it will be easier if they offer some special classes for disabled children in general schools, help them prepare well for inclusion, and then let them join "normal" classes. Because it is more feasible to offer several small programs in all districts than build a new school, and students do not have to move to a school far away from their home.

Anyway, I believe they can achieve their goals someday, they just need time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Basic Education in Ghana

In Ghana, it is common that one have more than one wife and many children. Not all of these children, especially girls, can go to school, because their parents are not able to afford the tuition fee or they have to take care of their younger siblings. They may leave schools to work or get married at very early age, although there is a policy in Ghana that every children should go to school. The good news is now they have free first level education and free lunch at school. The female to male ratio is 51:49 in Ghana, but there are not as many girls as boys.

There are also some policies to motivate people to become a teacher. Student teacher can get allowance and teachers can get free training. However, the number of teachers still cannot meet the need, especially in rural places. Some teachers left classroom for higher-paid jobs. Lots of companies hire "teachers" because they are high-educated, patient, and good at communicating. Some teachers, who were picked up  to big cities from rural places and trained, refuse to go back. The parents in these places also do not want the high-educated teachers back. Because they send their children to school for a better life. They thought if one were educated, he/she would have a better life, otherwise, education makes no change. They why should children go to school? I do not know how to answer this question. If some one could, it would not be a problem any more.

Education in Ghana focus more on work and life skills. They want their young adults to be useful (I am not sure if this is the right way to explain). Students have home economic classes in primary school. They can learn cooking, needling, and other skills. I think it is really a good idea. If I were able to cook, I would not miss Chinese food that much, I would cook myself every day!

Educators in Ghana did many things to develop their education and the condition here has been getting better. But (I hate "but") it still need to be improved.

Deaf is invisiblae

Unlike other physical disabilities, deaf is not "visible". One cannot tell anyone is deaf until communicate with him/her. --> It was unbelievable that the children who were laughing, running, shouting on the playground were not able to hear anything. They were very eager to communicate. They surrounded us, used sign language, wrote their names down, and played with cameras just like normal children. They loved cameras very much and they knew how to use them! The 17 year-old boy, Mark, was shy at the beginning, he was just standing and looking at others eagerly. When I invited him to join us, he was so happy and started "talking" with me. At that time, I realized how important the responds were.

These students spend most time with their families after school. So it is necessary for other family members learning how to communicate with them. Fortunately, the school provides sign language classes for their families. I think family is the most important factor that can impact a person living a life with disability at their young age. They knew little about who they were at that time. They learned, felt, or even copied from others, especially from their parents. Sometimes parents can make their children who they are, although no one want to acknowledge that.

I am also happy to know that these children can get working opportunities after graduated, which means they can take care of themselves and be independent. This is the purpose of education and the best thing we can do to help. Disable is not unable. They are able to be the ones they want to be and live lives they want to live.    

Friday, January 4, 2013

Loving Lampposts

I do not think that autism is a disease. Autistic people are just a small group of people who live in a different world. They have their own way to communicate, the way that may be weird to normal people. Their behaviors are always considered to be unreasonable, however, I think there must be some reason which we do not know.
People have wasted to much time on finding the factors that cause autism. They attributed it to mothers, foods, vaccine, or gene, and tried everything to fix their "sick" children. Since autism is a lifelong disorder, I think people should accept that, which means that autistic people are not sick, they are just different. They may be have barriers to our "normal" world, the best thing we can do is to build a bridge between their world and ours. It just like two people talk to each other with two different languages, the key point is try to understand. One of my friends has been work with autistic children for nearly 10 years, she told me that when these children hurt you, they would not apologize for their behavior, but they would do something you like, that is their way to say "sorry".
If we treated them as sick people and try to fix them, we would never understand their behavior s and help them live a better life. Some of them have high IQ or special skills, these ones will be very successful in appropriate positions. The best way to help them is to find their position and let them enjoy their lives.

Unstrange Minds

This book is like a journal that record the author's life with his autistic daughter and his whole family. I think we should also take care of the parents with autistic children.
These parents really need the support from general public. They might  be exhausted because of taking care of their children. They might fell guilty that they must have done something bad that could cause autism. They might hide their children because others think negatively about autism.
I saw a play named "falling" in a small theater before I came here. It was about one-day life of a family with autistic children. In this play, the mother felt relief when she dreamed that her 18-year-old autistic son died. But when she woke up she felt guilty and started to worry about who would take care of her son after she died. She was just tired and really need someone's help. 
Fortunately, there are more and more special schools, institutes and organizations pay attention to autistic children and their family. Parents can get information and help from psychiatrists, therapists, and even websites. If everyone do something positive to the families with autistic children, their life will be better.

His Voice Counts

It was a miracle that a single person changed the whole world in Ghana. Emmanuel was really lucky. I do not think he was the only one who wanted to fight for rights of disabilities, but he was the first one who made it.
He got his first gift from his mother who did not abandon him and pushed him to be a not useless people. That was very important to him and was why he is different from other disabled people. 
He got the support from the society. He successfully made his voice heard by riding a bicycle across Ghana. He let disabled people know that they can be more than a beggar. He let others know that disabilities in this country need help, they wanted better life. He got his "new leg", and then, started to help others like him and fight for rights for disabled people. 
He impressed their government and their king. These more powerful people's attitudes to disabilities influent others begin to respect disabilities. 
In this way, he made better lives and brighter futures for disabled people in Ghana. He told everyone that disabilities are not useless, he made normal people think they can be more than him. People thought him as Martin Luther King. He is a hero.
It is really important to held your belief, work hard, and speak your opinion out loudly. You may not powerful enough, but you can influence more powerful ones and they can help you to make your dream come true. Just keep this in mind: a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio de Janeiro might change the weather in Chicago.