Loving Special Needs Children in Zambia

Loving Special Needs Children in Zambia

My name is Katie Schuelke, and I had the opportunity to serve Special Hope Network in Lusaka the past three months. I am an undergraduate Speech Pathology student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and have always felt called to serve children and adults with disabilities. Last year, I began to look into various organizations world-wide that served children with disabilities. While there are few to pick from, they generally all have a similar format. It appeared they were either serving children who were orphaned because of their disability or they were only providing one area of service, i.e. physical therapy.

Special Hope stood out to me due to their drastically different model of being centered on not only the children but also on the parents. They believe that the changes in these children’s lives will not happen in the six hours a week they are at the Community Care Centers (CCCs), but actually happen during the other 162 hours that the children spend with their caregivers and community. In light of that belief, one of the main goals of the CCCs is to equip the parents to be able to continue working with and teaching their child  at home in their daily activities. This is done by spending two of the days demonstrating activities, exercises, and concepts to the parents and then on Friday the parents can practice those skills while being supervised by a staff member.

The other part of Special Hope that is so unique is their focus on intellectual disabilities. All of the children have some form of intellectual disability and most have physical ones, as well. Special Hope believes it is very important to address both the intellectual development and the physical challenges of the child. A child may learn how to walk, but if he/she doesn’t understand about safety this could be quite dangerous. On the other hand, a child who is not able to walk or run but can communicate and stay safe is better able to perform activities of daily living with less dependence on a caregiver. Realizing this, Special Hope provides different rooms for the child to learn motor skills, communication, sensory and academic skills

The last part of Special Hope that I want to highlight is how they change the lives of their children and their mothers, family, and community. In our world, too often children and adults with disabilities are seen as ‘less than’ and Zambia is no different. By having over twenty staff who are devoting themselves to loving and teaching the children, the message is clearly communicated that these children are worth it, that they are loved, they are created in God’s image, and God can work through them just as much as any “normal” child or adult.

Special Hope does not care if a child can run, walk, talk, and live fairly independently or a child cannot eat, move, or communicate on their own. Every child is treated equally and loved for who they are. The staff shows the children, mothers and community the power of God’s love by demonstrating that same love and care towards every single child and mother. By providing the Community Care Centers, Special Hope gives a space for the mothers to see that special gift God has given their child and provides a chance for the community to be exposed to a completely different view of disability than they have seen before.

My time with Special Hope not only gave me a chance to work with children who have disabilities across the world, but it showed me how disability is no different in a another country or in a different culture. God created, loves, and works through every child and adult no matter their limitations and Special Hope is showing that clearly in Lusaka, one child at a time.

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Special Hope Network is a Christian ministry to children with intellectual disabilities in Zambia. We teach children and train their families in academics, therapies, nutrition and feeding and positioning with an excellence unrivaled in Zambia. We run Community Care Centers in the poorest compounds, as well as one Center for children with ID from families who are able to pay for our services. The need is growing exponentially, and we are in need of more teachers of children with special needs, and office staff/managers who can oversee operations and keep our ministry running smoothly. People ready to hit the ground running to serve are very welcome to apply with us. We have been praying for gifted folks to join us. Learn more here how you can volunteer or help support their work.

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