Joy at last for some very special children
By Marianne Parente
It took lots of effort but there is comfort and joy at last for some very special children. In true round the world style, a plea was sent to John and Lorna by friends of Linda’s. Could they help provide beds and toys for children with special needs? David and Angharad James, who are doing their own work here in Afghanistan with Mountain Unity - supporting trekking in the Wakhan province, starting up a candle making business that will employ women, running a children’s play center – became involved with these children who live in a group home with caretakers.
The children are orphans or their families simply cannot take care of their special needs. Some are crippled with cerebral palsy, a few have autism. Two generous Afghan patrons provide funds for food and rent but there are no social workers, no physical therapists, and certainly no small comforts of life. Until recently, the children have slept on thin mats on a cold, hard floor. Caretakers change frequently. It is hard work lifting the children. They spent their time on the floor, even being fed lying flat on their back. They are thin. Feeding takes time. Feeding a disabled child well takes time and money. Play time, entertainment, comfort – there is lots of wishful thinking but not much hope of making it come true.
What changed recently? Two angels have come into these children’s lives. Karen, a social worker from Children in Crisis, and Angharad have taken them on and are determined to make things better for these kids. Help in the form of high protein supplement bars was provided by UNICEF. The staff had to be convinced that the children could be taught how to chew, that it was important for them to sit up or be propped up on pillows when eating. Eggs, fruit, yoghurt - all hallmarks of good nutrition - were all strange to the children. You cannot just educate the staff about the importance of good nutrition; the children have to learn how to eat and how to like these foods as well.
The next step was to improve their environment. Physical therapy in the guise of play time became a priority. A new house with more room was found with the living room designated as the official ‘playroom’. The children also began to have outings to Sam’s House. Here, under Angharad’s guidance, they discovered the joy of movement and play. Toys, never before seen or used, now occupy their hands and minds. Time and patience can bring much more mobility and, most important, more independence to the children.
Now for the ultimate luxury: the Linda Norgrove Foundation were asked if they could provide real beds and toys. What heaven, to rest their bodies on a real spring mattress. What heaven for the staff not to have to bend and lift the children from the floor. Winter cold seeping into their bodies from the floor will be a thing of the past. What excitement to handle brightly coloured toys that have buttons to push that make music. What a thrill to roll a truck or a car in front of you and suddenly find your mind somewhere else, travelling to places near or far, real or imagined.
Angharad James of Mountain Unity shares the excitement of the day with us: (Watch the video of Angharad’s visit to the children’s home at the end of this blog.)
“As I enter the compound there is great excitement, I see heads peeping around the door and familiar faces come running down to greet us. I haven’t seen the children for about four weeks and I have heard that some beds have just arrived.
“For many children in the west it would be an unusual thing to cause so much excitement and enthusiasm, but here in Afghanistan small day to day things can have a very big impact.
“A little boy grabs my hand and we dash up the stairs, he runs and bounces on one of the new beds. Before, he was sleeping on a thin mat on the floor and had no personal space of his own. I laugh and joke about how bouncy the bed is and he is grinning from ear to ear. We’re joined by Abdulla, who has cerebral palsy, and one of the other boys. Abdulla likes to be the centre of everything and was keen to be brought upstairs. He has a smile that just lights up the room and he lies on his bed and nods with a big grin when I ask him in Dari if he likes his new bed.
“I head downstairs to speak to Frozan who had grown up in the children’s home - her family were all sadly killed when she was a young child. She now helps to run the children’s home along with carers who come in to look after the children. I ask Frozan how the children are enjoying the beds: ‘They don’t see themselves just as being disabled now, it has allowed the children to feel like regular kids, and the children are so happy having a bed.’
“As we drive back through the busy traffic in the centre of Kabul I am struck by the importance of these small projects - for these 10 children to feel valued and to have self worth is an integral part of humanity.
“On behalf of all of these children I want to really thank the Linda Norgrove Foundation, for now these children are really smiling. Do these children live life to their full potential? Far from it but it is the little things that make us happy and one little thing at a time, life is getting better for these very special children.”