A LABOR OF LOVE, GRIT, AND PASSION: BUILDING A SPECIAL-NEEDS INFRASTRUCTURE IN ATIMA
By Sara Lever
In recent years, OCHO’s mission has transitioned from our early focus, on directly providing care, to an increasing emphasis on bolstering Atima’s health and education infrastructure. In supporting our friends in Atima, it is crucial to understand the sociocultural and political environment that we are not always privy to, during the other 51 weeks of the year. This year, we were privileged to hear from the experts in special education in Atima, the teachers from the community rehabilitation center, or CRIC (Centro de Rehabilitación Integral Communitario). During our stay in Atima, several teachers from the CRIC – Sulmy, Ana, Maribel y Sofía – gave a presentation that explained the structure of the educational system in Honduras, the origins of the CRIC, as well as challenges and limitations they encounter in providing educational and recreational activities for the special-needs community in Honduras.
The teachers explained that, in the past, people with special needs had limited access to education, due to unpaved roads, the long distances between remote settlements and the town, and a lack of recognition of their legal rights. However, when Sulmy’s son was born with cerebral palsy and began to demonstrate limitations in his physical and cognitive abilities, she recognized that, despite being different from other children, he still had potential. Sulmy’s determination, and that of her friends – along with support from OCHO – have led to the development of the CRIC. The teachers emphasized that OCHO’s physical, speech, occupational, and medical assessments have helped them to get baseline data for special-needs children at the CRIC. These women work night and day, maintaining meticulous notes on each CRIC student, and going above and beyond to truly help every student to maximize their capacities and enjoy life to the fullest.
During the talk, the teachers also invited a community member – a visually impaired man who is well versed in law – to share his experiences and elaborate on the state of legal protections for Hondurans with special needs. Both sets of presenters indicated that, although strides have been made in law, there is still work to be done to improve the implementation of the law. The presenters showed their grit and passion when explaining how they are working to raise awareness about people with special needs, and how they are driven to continue increasing opportunities for people with special needs. Our conversation ended with an outpouring of excitement for the new special-needs center, which will provide medical, educational, and recreational space for the special-needs community to thrive. The presentation from our pioneers in Atima was a wonderful reminder of the challenges we have overcome, and the frustrations we must continue to work through together, to improve the lives of the people with special needs, and their families.