Namibia: Early Disability Detection Is Key

EARLY detection and intervention are key in giving children with disabilities the best chance of a quality life.

This was the message Huipie van Wyk delivered at a three-day workshop held for parents and carers of children with disabilities that started at Keetmanshoop on Monday.

Van Wyk is the director of Side by Side Early Intervention Centre, a non-profit organisation that offers services and support to children with disabilities and their families.

Side by Side also seeks to achieve community-based rehabilitation to inform family and community members on the needs of all children with a disability.

"This will ensure continued care of the child even when the parent is no longer there," she said.

The workshop is sponsored by the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a partnership of six UN agencies, including the United Nations Children's Fund.

The mother of a seven-year-old girl with a disability, Van Wyk gave her own example and urged parents to uncompromisingly stand up for their children, as they have "special needs".

"Disability is not a choice, it can happen to anyone," she told 12 parents who attended the workshop, adding: "Each of us has our own story about being a parent of a child with a disability and about what we have experienced in our journey so far.

"If you are not a parent of a child with a disability, you are here because there is a child with a disability in your life and you understand what it is like to care for a child with a disability."

According the the World Health Organisation, one in every five people in the developing world, Namibia included, has a disability.

"One in three people involved with a child living with a disability stop working to care for the child, the family income is reduced and yet expenses soar and siblings no longer get what they used to. So four out of five people are affected by a single case of disability," she explained.

Van Wyk was however eloquent in her message: "Do not hide children with disabilities, seek help early to give that child a chance in life."

Parents also shared experiences in caring for their children, saying they encountered multiple challenges.

Saretta Sophia Sonn, the regional coordinator for the Namibia Association for Children with Disabilities, whose daughter is paralysed on the left said the biggest challenge was that most parents are unemployed and the N$250 disability grant from the government is too little to meet a child's special needs.

"It can only buy diapers and nothing more," she said.

Also making presentations were members of the Side by Side team - Teagan Hohls, a reflexologist and therapist who highlighted the importance of therapy as a continuous process, and social worker Michelle Zeelie.

Motivational speaker Denzil de Beer urged mothers to be pillars for their vulnerable children to lean on "because it is only the mother who believes in her child, no matter the circumstances".

The next Side by Side workshop will be at Swakopmund from Wednesday to Friday next week.

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