My amazing, transformative journey to help heal the culture of disregard and abuse of children with disabilities in Ghana
By: Christina Jaramillo
“My child is possessed by a demon – a snake.”
This is the translation of harsh words from the mothers of disabled children in Ghana, Africa. Tears poured down their faces as they described the challenges of raising children with disabilities in Ghana. Though I was given extensive information on the culture leading up to the mission trip, the harsh reality was almost suffocating.
One mother testified that she would beat her disabled child in an effort to free him from the demons or snakes that plagued him. Another spoke of the challenges of trying to care for her 4-year-old son, Ekow, and his younger sibling. Ekow, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is unable to walk or even hold his head up for long periods of time. His mother shared how he is labeled as a “snake” in their community due to the stigma the culture associates with his disability.
She went on to describe how she is unable to take both children down from her hilltop home into the village due to her inability to carry both of them and the groceries back up. She explained that her only option is to leave Ekow outside all day in the sun. When she would return home, she would often find Ekow passed out in the dirt from heat exhaustion.
When we first arrived in Ghana, we were told not to look at the floor these people live on, but into their hearts. While it is easy for us to judge the actions of these parents based on our own culture and experience, it’s a perspective that was entirely foreign to them.
To compound matters, besides the social stigma that these families experience, there is a profound difference in how the medical system works. In Ghana, when you need to see a doctor, payment is expected upfront. This is true regardless of the situation. Emergency rooms are not required to treat patients who can’t afford to pay. The unfortunate reality is that most people we visited were unable to pay for any medical treatment whatsoever.
Besides the inherent physical conditions some of these children were born with, many were malnourished, had no access to antibiotics and were subject to all manner of ailments that are easily treated in America, but can turn into serious issues in this part of the world.
Joni and Friends, the faith-based group that organized and led the mission, provided physical therapy sessions and coordinated donations including wheelchairs, braces and other necessary mobile equipment to every child at the retreat. As a nurse, for the past seven years, I’ve helped heal cuts and bruises. Healing the culture of disregard and abuse of children with disabilities was the true challenge here.
We were fortunate to have accompanying us a Corpus Christi doctor of physical therapy who was born in Ghana. Dr. Sam Owiredu has been part of this amazing mission for the past six years. His medical expertise and understanding of the culture gave us insight into treating both the physical and cultural difficulties that afflicted the families we visited.
During our time in the country, we found that many a Ghanaian’s view of America was one of awe and admiration. They were taken aback by the care and affection we showed the children who they saw as cursed and burdensome. In treating their wounds and teaching them to use the equipment that would help them get around, we connected with these children in a way that inspired their families to listen to the truth: that their children weren’t full of snakes or demons, but love and hope.
In our time there, we could see the transformation. Through our compassion and example, they began to see their children differently. They embraced them where once they shunned them. Kisses replaced curses. Nourishment replaced neglect. The men and women insisted they were going to make changes in their communities – that they would be advocates for their children. They made plans to help other families just like them.
In the weeks following our visit, we’ve received regular updates from the families. They have come together in support of one another, and they meet regularly to socialize and create positive change in their communities. They’ve even managed to have a wheelchair ramp installed at a local church. The last update showed the group happy and healthy together at a birthday party for one of the children.
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Christina Jaramillo is a nurse at Promptu Immediate Care in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was inspired by her faith in Jesus Christ to use her medical expertise to help those less fortunate. For more information on how you can help, please visit Promptu Immediate Care online at www.promptucare.com.