Sunday, June 28, 2009

Days 7 & 8 (May 26 & 27) - The New Horizon Special School

Days 7 & 8 (Tuesday and Wednesday) were spent at the New Horizon Special School. This school is a privately funded school for individuals with disabilities. They have about 100-120 students ranging in age from 6-52 years old. They have two sections of students, an educational section and a vocational section. In the educational section, individuals are put into 7 groups by age and ability. Both sections of the school are a day school from 8-4. It costs families about $200 per term (3 terms per year)to attend. There is no government funding and they cannot depend on donations. A few of the students have sponsorship but most are able to pay out of pocket. The goal of the school is to put students back into the community and enable them with something to do. However, this is not always received well. Most of the employees and teachers do not have special education training and have learned everything onsite. They have workshops to learn more and yearly training for teachers, but more specialized training would be beneficial.
All the students have either physical or intellectual disabilities. The building is not accessible but the students manage. We were suprised to find that a physiotherapist from the Netherlands works here. She works with students on positioning and exercises.
Students in the educational section take normal school classes such as math and reading. They try to group individuals by abilities and then break it down to everyone's individual level. They also work with students on daily ADLs and take them through various skills to discover their interests. Students who do well get some allowance as an incentive. Then they can spend this at a restaurant.
Students in the vocational section can sell their goods at a store located onsite. The school buys the materials for their dollmaking, basketweaving, cloth dying and woodworking. The school tries to give 50% of the profit on the products back to the students and they spend the money together. Some students have joint bank accounts with their parents.

There are other schools that are funded by the government but this one is not. Everything is funded by the parents. It is important for the students to know their roles in their families and society. Institutions are not helpful because they do not know the social behavior of a family. The best place is at home with their families in the evenings. The students need love from their parents just like their siblings.

The Physiotherapist at the school is trained in the Bobath technique. She told us that there are about 80 physiotherapists in all of Ghana. Her work at the school has been with children with cerebral palsy (CP). She makes chairs and standing frames for the children our of recycled paper. She mentioned that they do have proper equipment here but they may not at home. She is teaching some of the vocational students how to make these chairs so that they can be sold. Her focus is mostly on positioning and exercies. She said that pressure sores are not bad but some of the older children have contractures that started long ago. She described how we need to work in hospitals to catch these individuals early so that we can prevent many contractures. The school has several wheelchairs but not special ones necessary for appropriate positioning. Some children have wheelchairs at home but all wheelchairs stay at the school so they will not be lost.
Many children have nannies to care for them. We later learned that many of these children are cared for nannies most of their lives and rarely see their parents. They are cared for but separated from family life. This level of care is rare in Ghana and is only among the most wealthy families.
We spent Tuesday morning touring the center and looking at what we should bring back with us the following day. Areas of possible treatment included hand positioning, tool use, head support, eye control, communication skills and systems, ADLs, vocational training, increasing hand use, age appropriate activities, specialized equipment for the computer room, adaptations for pencils, rulers and scissors, dysem, slant boards and social skills training.
We spent Wednesday implementing many of these treatments including various adaptations to utensils, pencils, and other tools. We worked on feeding and positioning as well. In addition to our adaptations for the students, we gave an instructional course on all of our adapted equipment and proper transfer techniques. The staff was very interested in what we had to say and how they could improve. Another volunteer privately mentioned to us that nothing like that had been done before but needed to happen.

I had a great time at this school but realized that it is not in the greatest need for our help. Yes, there is a lot we can do to help with what they have already established, but other centers with less funding may need more of our help.

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