Posted on November 28, 2016Our Story:
Our son, AJ (Asher Josiah) was a vibrant, affectionate two year old, the life of our household! All of that changed in 2014 when we began noticing he was regressing. He became very quiet and withdrawn, preferring to wander around the house by himself, wouldn’t make eye contact, or play with his siblings anymore. These signs and others led us to seek medical help in the USA. It was recommended that he undergo speech and ABA therapy to get him back on track.
We returned to Cameroon only to discover such services are practically inexistent. We found out there is not a single English-speaking speech therapist in the whole country, and only two French speaking ones.
For AJ’s sake, moving to the USA or another country where we could find help and support seemed to be our only option. But, we had mixed feelings about such a decision.
In early 2016, we painted a room in our house in Douala to use in providing specialized tutoring for our sweet son. Little did we know this would evolve so rapidly to include several special needs children. We soon outgrew the space in the room as well as our living room and began looking for a place to start a school. In mid-2016, we found a suitable house to use for a school. Our entire staff worked so hard with other professionals to renovate and paint the structure. In September we launched “RAY OF HOPE ACADEMY in Douala and we have continued to have special needs families approach us to enroll their kids.
In addition to trying to raise funds for trainers and a school bus, we could use the following group of educators: ABA Therapists, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists as well as special Education Teachers and a Psychologist. Volunteers like these can come on a short or long term basis (two weeks, three months, six months, one year or longer) to work alongside our Cameroonian team.
According to CDC stats, 1 in 50 individuals are now diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Spectrum Disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The recent sharp rise in number of Autism has been described as an epidemic among children.
A CULTURAL DILEMMA
The cause of Autism is a heavily debated subject. Scientific researchers are looking into genetics and environmental causes. In Africa - where most people are still very superstitious, autism is easily attributed to witchcraft and bad omen. Consequently, special needs children are seen as a drain on a family's limited finances and as such a nuisance. In some circles, they are neglected. It's no wonder there are no provision or emphasis even by the government or educational institutions for this segment of society. No speech therapists. No Occupational Therapists. No practicing children Psychologists.
Positive change is possible, but, we all have a role to play in speeding it up. We are hoping we can make a difference through a model-all-inclusive school we now call RAY of HOPE.
RAY OF HOPE ACADEMY: PURPOSEFULLY DIFFERENT!
A UNIQUE SCHOOL FOR UNIQUE SITUATIONS
In founding Ray of Hope Academy, we were motivated by our belief that EVERY child can learn and has the right to be taught in the way that he or she learns best. Our desire is to take special needs children and children with all learning abilities and work one on one with them. Providing an environment and specialist who can address their unique situation and purposefully work with them. The time to transition will depend on the impact of the remediation, the social and emotional growth, self-awareness and self-advocacy skills. At Ray of Hope, it is going to be a TEAM effort.
A WORLD CLASS & WELL ROUNDED EDUCATION
Our vision is to build a school that is all-inclusive and where children from various backgrounds can and will receive a world class and well-rounded education that will give them the skills, strategies, and tools to transition to secondary schools and other educational environments when the time is right.
WORLD CLASS TEACHERS/EDUCATORS & SPECIALISTS
We intend to surround these students with highly trained and skilled teachers and specialists, led by an administrative team that will set high standards of excellence and that see the value of ongoing professional development. Our team is presently drawn from Cameroon, but, we are looking at recruiting educators and experts from the USA, Europe, and other countries.
WHERE WE ARE & THE NEXT STEP
We recently moved into two rented buildings for the school. We started in September with seven full time staff and three support staff as well as an administrative team that includes my wife and I, the Executive Director of CADAC and others.
• Short & Long term volunteers who are trained in ABA therapy, & PECs
• Special Education Teachers
• Speech Therapists
• Child Psychologists to evaluate & assess each child
• Occupational Therapists
• Curriculum development experts to help develop appropriate curriculum
• Grant writers who are able to identify and write grants
FUTURE PLANS & SERVICES
As we look to the future, we envision and desire to create a community that will provide an educational environment that creates meaningful jobs, builds a sense of belonging, and demands dignity and respect for adults with disabilities. We are in dialogue with the Cameroonian government about donating over 100 acres of suitable land to use in providing the following services in this future community:
• Respite & Day Habilitation
• Supervised Living
• Supported Home Living
• Residential Support Services &
• Supported Employment