The most painful experience I have had as a mother nurturing a child with cerebral palsy is discrimination. Through no fault of hers, this child faces rejection and exclusion from society.
I have experienced at first-hand how schools on hearing that I am seeking admission for my daughter with cerebral palsy will just cut me short to say, “We don’t have vacancies for admission, We do not know how to handle such a child, we do not know how other parents will take it, seeing that we have admitted a child who is different”
Others will simply direct you to take the child to a Special school as if you the parent do not know that there are special schools around, yet others will ask if you have prayed concerning the situation and start giving fake prophecies”
This list of excuses is endless, one day, after such a rejection from one such school, I sat in my car and prayed to God: “God, you know there is no place for my daughter with cerebral palsy and yet you have allowed her to live, just take her life,” I was in pain and I cried in anguish.
Well…. God knew there was a place for a child with cerebral palsy in Ghana and so has allowed my daughter with cerebral palsy to live till now and we hope for more life.
Sometimes, I get simply amazed at how people, especially religious people show cruelty to persons who are different.
Let me establish before I continue, I am a staunch Christian who believe in the power of God, in the power of prayers and believe that children are precious gifts from God.
I tell people that out of the three children I have, the one that I prayed and asked God for, is my daughter with cerebral palsy so it feels sad that in Ghana, children with disability are given all kinds of derogatory names.
“Bosom ba” (child from a smaller god) Nsuo ba (a child from the river) etc are the most popular names we give to children with disability, sometimes, I get the feeling that in Ghana, people think that once a child is disabled then the child is useless.
About 70 percent of children with cerebral palsy in Ghana are simply not in school because of their disability, schools refuse them admission or put in place conditions that tends to strain and stress the parent such that the parent will be compelled to withdraw their child with cerebral palsy from school.
My experiences for the past eight years in nurturing a child with cerebral palsy, tells me one thing, we are a people that does not embrace change or diversity. We tend to stigmatize what we fear or what we do not understand.
People make you believe that it is perhaps it is because one did not pray enough or one sinned that they had a child with disability, my response is always that disability is not a curse, disability is not evil, disability is not a punishment from God, disability is just God’s way of showing us diversity.
Diversity is a beautiful thing, it is the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different orientations. Diversity breeds tolerance and thus peace.
Diversity is what makes you empathize with another person’s situation perhaps without necessarily endorsing it.
One example that comes up to mind readily about diversity is the rejection or denial of Rastafarian students into Achimota senior high school in Ghana. I am not in a position to state the facts of the issues since I did not witness the issue in person but listening to the media reports and following social media discussion just got me depressed.
I saw clearly two students being grossly discriminated against because of their religious creed and how their hairs looked, how sad I felt, reminiscing the many times my innocent daughter has been denied access to school because she has a disability.
The fact that you do not share religious beliefs and culture with another person does not give you a room to discriminate against them, oppress them or see them us bad.
I remember clearly at one point, going into a government school to seek admission for my daughter with cerebral palsy and the head of school telling me to wait for my daughter to walk before I brought her.
It was as if, I had the power to make my daughter walk, as a mother, one of my fervent prayers to God is to make my daughter walk and here was I being told to take my daughter home and wait for her to walk before bringing her to school.
As if a child being able to walk is a mark of intelligence.
The discrimination I have suffered at the hands of some heads of schools both private and government is countless and I cannot recount them all.
Different does not mean the person is bad, we can have different believes, different ideologies, weird looks and still be good people and tolerate one another.
The fact that you do not share the same beliefs with another person should not make the person an enemy.
As a country, we have signed unto many policies, laws and international treaties with the objectives of achieving inclusive development.
Inclusive development means that as a country we ensure that all marginalised and excluded groups are stakeholders in development processes. This means that we formulate policies and programmes that caters for all, all including minority groups whose basis of belief we may not fully understand and appreciates.
We have simply defined culture as a way of life of a group of people at a particular place but culture is dynamic as some will say. Culture should be progressive otherwise people could argue that even Christianity is not our culture.
Since Ghana is not an island and interacts and depends on other country to develop progressively, it is important that we start conversations about embracing change without the usual emotions and moral mask that many of our people wear.
Because I strongly believe that without embracing change and diversity, we cannot achieve inclusive development in Ghana.
By Hannah Awadzi