Caring for children with disabilities

Education

30 October 2020 | Health

Michelle Zeeli; Social worker; “…children with disabilities are not outcasts…”

Walvis Bay • [email protected]


The Side by Side Early Intervention Centre hosted a one-day workshops in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund the past week.

The introduction to disability workshop was for parents and caretakers of children with disabilities.

The Windhoek-based Side by Side Centre operates as a day care, early intervention and rehabilitation centre for families of children with special needs. Their mission is to provide early childhood development in children with special needs, and to train parents as well as the community and caregivers.

Children who have autism, cerebral palsy, brain damage, Down’s syndrome, hydrocephalus and developmental delays are supported by the Side by Side Centre.

According to Michelle Zeeli, a social worker at Side by Side, they started hosting these workshops after they realised many parents and community members did not entirely understand the disability their child has.

“Doctors don’t always explain in detail disabilities and often parents or their surrounding community members do not know how to work with these children or how to take proper care of them and that’s where we come in. We are trying to close that gap, by educating parents, caretakers, teachers and members of the community.”

She explained that the workshop specifically focuses on providing knowledge and information to parents and caretakers as to how they can work with their children, where they can receive assistance and what type of assistance is available for their children.

For this specific workshop, Zeeli was accompanied by Teagen Hohls, who is a therapeutic reflexologist from Side by Side.

Ansie Robberts, who is a speech therapist from Swakopmund, also shared her knowledge with workshop attendees.

During the workshop, Hohls showed parents how everyday objects such as a straw, toothbrush, sponge and feathers can be used as sensory stimulation for children with disabilities.

“Since we don’t have centres all over Namibia, except for in Windhoek, we try to educate the attendees as much as possible at these workshops.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Side by Side hosted parent training sessions in Windhoek each month.

“We started getting calls from different towns and our director, Huipie van Wyk, suggested we approach UNICEF. We started collaborating and established the training manual for these one-day workshops, and through their sponsorship as well as that of B2Gold, we are now able to travel to the various towns and host these introductory workshops.”

Zeeli said that the feedback received from Swakopmund after the workshops was very positive.

“We expected a bit more people in Walvis Bay, but we believe that word will travel. There is a strong possibility that we will return to the coastal towns and host similar workshops.”

She said that the biggest challenge Side by Side is faced with, is that of inclusion.

“Many communities rejecting children with disabilities. One of our students at the centre does not want to return to school anymore because he is being bullied. That is why we are aiming to educate not only parents, but community members that children with disabilities are not outcasts, but are worthy to be loved and protected.”

Side by Side encourages parents who attend the workshops to start parent support groups.

“When the going gets tough, and since we can’t be here at all times, it would be great to have them supporting each other. We encourage them to share their stories with each other. Your child’s story can be an inspiration to the next person.”

Each participant received a certificate of participation after the workshop.

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