Clouds of dust fly out behind Manuel’s jeep as he drives along the bumpy roads between villages. He’s on a rescue mission, defending the rights of children with disabilities. And saving their lives.
“We go on a rescue mission every other month. If we could afford it we’d do it more often, because there is such great need. In many parts of our country, the lives of children with disabilities are constantly in danger. In most rural areas, these children are a long way from hospitals that know how to treat children with disabilities. Many people are poor and have never attended school, so parents are often unable to read information about their children’s conditions. Young children with disabilities are sometimes still seen as evil spirits, or snakes that should be abandoned in the jungle. That’s why our rescue missions are so important. We teach villages and families about the rights of children with disabilities, and then offer the children treatment, accommodation and schooling with us,” explains Manuel.
16 field workers Manuel and his organisation AGRICE have 16 field workers based all over the country. They visit towns and villages to look for blind children and children with other disabilities. Manuel works with churches, mosques, traditional leaders and local authorities. They contact AGRICE if they know of children who need help, and that’s when Manuel goes on a rescue mission. Before each visit, he contacts the local authorities and explains what he is going to do. AGRICE needs permission from the authorities when they take a child to Manuel’s centre.
Braima – the snake boy Manuel has been informed about a little boy in a distant village who needs help. When he arrives, he is met by Djenabu, a sad and worried mother who is watching her son Braima, 8, lying struggling on the ground. He is using his arms to drag his body across the yard. Although the neighbouring children are playing football just a few metres away, it’s impossible for Braima to join in. His mother Djenabu explains: “Braima has problems with his neck, and he can’t stand up by himself. I don’t really know what is wrong. My husband left me when our son was a baby. He said, ‘That is not my son. That is a snake slithering around.’ I need someone to help me explain to my husband that he is wrong. Our son is a person, not a snake. It’s hard for me to look after Braima on my own and feed us both. I’m really worried about the future, but Manuel has promised to help me. Manuel says that if my son gets the right treatment, he will gradually be able to look after himself more. That he will be able to have a good life, and not have to struggle like this. I want that for him so much. Manuel even thinks Braima will be able to go to school. He has promised to take my son for an examination and to get the help he needs. Braima will be able to live at Manuel’s centre. That makes me so happy!”
Not only visually impaired children “We don’t only help visually impaired children. People tell us about children with many different kinds of disabilities, both physical and mental health issues, who live in rural areas and have difficult lives. Every child has the right to a good life, and we try to always ensure each child receives the right treatment. Braima will have a full examination in hospital, and then he will have physiotherapy and training at our centre. We will also train his mother in how best to take care of Braima, and give her some goats so that she can sell their kids in order to support the family. That’s not really part of what we do, but in this situation we have to help,” says Manuel.