Saturday, February 9, 2008

Children and Adults with disabilities in Cameroon: Victims or Wtiches?

When I was in Cameroon, I had never heard of the identification and education of exceptional children. As I was taking the course in 2002, I kept pondering if such a course was being offered. I tried to flashback at the way children with disabilities were being treated in Cameroon. I had lived and gone to school with them, but they did not have any special accommodations and rights than what all of us had. People believe that if you are disabled, you should stay at home rather than come to school to bother your teachers and mates. Such was the destiny that the society and government ligated them. Today, I will be considering how the children with disabilities are treated in Cameroon in particular and in Africa as whole.

There were no disabled grants to help them in their conditions. The buses are made mainly for the ones who are whole, and the children with disabilities used the same bus. It has always baffled me how you put a disabled child in the same classroom with those who have no disabilities. There was no main coordinating office for a Non restrictive environment, but there are exceptions to serious handicaps. Help that usually comes through the main stream classrooms like language, speech and physical therapies are lacking. The classes are very large, making it difficult to render help and accommodate the disabled child. In some classes, you had 55-125 students for the secondary schools and 40-2,500 for university in some cases. That prevents individualized services. I never heard or saw any consideration before placements like referral, evaluation and classification. I have never heard of an Individual Education Program for any student. Their testing is the same with regular kids.

Although students with disabilities need rehabilitation, I don’t think the government is doing anything for them. If there is any process to rehabilitate them, then the process is very slow and disorganized. Most of them have the sky as their covering and grass for their beds. They live on sarakat as they lay mendicant plates by the road sides where they incur insults and alms in the same bowl. They have to rely on the largesse of the public because they have no careers and vocations, and their conditions too limit them from competing with whole Cameroonians. Their burdens are carried by the families and not the government. Strong family ties will be sufficient for a disabled child and person in Cameroon. Those that lack are those whose families are poor and mean too. Some of them their families are the Gertrude and Absalom Kumalos of our days. They have gone to the West and no one knows their whereabouts.

I remember a brother in Christ and friend: Kitts who was deaf and was in a class of 1500 students in the amphitheater taking lectures. He was good in taking down notes after reading from a friend. Then he will go home, recopy the notes and read the textbook. Thank God he was a smart guy who passed all his courses. He always laughed after everyone had laughed and stopped because when we laugh, then he will write on a piece of paper asking me why we are laughing. Then when I tell him that is when he laughs and disrupts the lesson. Since the teacher already knew what was happening, it instead made him too to laugh when Kitts was laughing because it was like what type of ill luck is this with this man.

Now as I look back, I can only think of an awful lifestyle for the underprivileged. The country has to do more to care for those who are handicapped. Look at the lepers and see how they are treated. It is true the government is trying to handle it their own way but putting people in quarantine for non contagious diseases like leprosy is unkind. As you read research, the majority state that leprosy is non contagious while a feeble minority claims it is. Yet the government prefers to go with the feeble minority though the feeble minority claims that proper hygiene will even eliminate the minutia contagion percentage. The rest of the society looks at the socially and mentally disabled children as if they are accursed. Some of them are even considered witches where they are either burnt alive, driven from their homes and donated for sacrifice to make the parents rich or even to the extent of killing them. Most are supported by Non profit organizations.

Are they victims of some sort of social exclusion? To an extent, the mentally and physically challenged in our country are excluded. So too are the Anglophones, women, children and short people. Yes, you heard me well;short people. Just of recent the short people formed The Short People Organization to fight for their rights because the bus and every other thing marginalized them. The presence of tribalism has made most people to be excluded in Cameroon. It would look like apart from the Hausa and Betis the rest of the tribes have been socially excluded from Cameroon. Nonetheless, the physically and mentally challenged are more socially excluded.

Consequently, I am disappointed and disgusted with the way the govern handles this group of people. Therefore, the society and government must do enough to cater for the socially and mentally disabled children in African countries. To remediate this problem, the first thing to do is for the mentality of the society to change. To be disabled does not mean you are a witch or wizard. It does not mean God has abandoned you or that you are less of a human being than the others. The society and government should think about rehabilitating them. The government should offer disabled grants, design specific buses just for them, offer language, speech and physical therapies for them and create a coordinating office that will implement good polices for their welfare. I am conscious there are perfunctory offices out there pretending to cater for the physically and mentally disabled children but I do not mean those ones. The government should create genuine ones in theory and practice.

Until then, it is godly to care for the disabled.

Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk

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