Breaking Barriers with Best Buddies in Ghana
“What are your plans after graduation?” Thanks to Best Buddies, I had an answer to that question. For the past four years I was actively involved with Salve Regina’s Best Buddies program and I can honestly say every person I met through it changed my life.
“My time as an international studies major was coming to an end and I was faced with the decision of what I wanted to do with my life. I realized that advocating for the rights of those with intellectual disabilities was the career I wanted and traveling was my passion, so why not put them together?
“My goal was to intern for Best Buddies abroad and I was fortunate enough that Best Buddies Ghana needed a volunteer for the summer. I got all my shots, ignored the concerns from my friends and family, and set out on my new adventure. Within the first couple of weeks in Africa, I was introduced to a three year old boy named Kofi who gave me a glimpse into the life of children with intellectual disabilities in Ghana.
“Kofi was abandoned by his mother for having a disabilitiy. His aunt took him in, but since he cannot walk or talk, the woman had to give up her job to take care of him. The family and society will not associate or speak to the boy or his new family because having an intellectual disability is taboo in many villages.
“As Kofi’s mom spoke, she mentioned that there were five other families in the immediate area that had similar stories with their kids. I’ll admit, it was extremely overwhelming at first. How do you change people’s stigmas towards intellectual disabilities without changing their culture? It seemed like a huge task to undertake without public support.
“I got the opportunity to volunteer with New Horizon Special School and it changed my perspective on Ghana’s capability of acceptance. New Horizons is a school that offers children with intellectual disabilities a place where they can learn and grow.
“People of all ages and abilities can attend with the kids learning in classrooms while adults learn trade skills so they can be employed and sell their crafts. The teachers, children, and volunteers are truly incredible.
“With the work that is being done, they are starting a movement in Ghana to change how people look at intellectual disabilities from being a curse to being a blessing. Even though this school is a step in the right direction, there is still much more that needs to be done.
“Children with intellectual disabilities are still segregated from the rest of the community. Sadly, this is the case in many countries, but with programs like Best Buddies and other inclusion initiatives, we can promote friendship and equality one nation at a time.