A Child’s Story: Mohamed of Sierra Leone

01/21/11

From early in his life, Christiana knew her son was different. Though Mohamed was born healthy, at about seven months old he started experiencing different types of illnesses involving high fevers. Christiana took him to a clinic nearby her home in the village of Ngolala, Sierra Leone, Africa. When that didn’t work, she took him to a local village doctor—again with no results. She soon discovered that little Mohamed wasn’t able to hear or speak properly. “Mohamed’s condition was deteriorating,” Christiana says. The desperate mother continued to care for her child as he grew, with little help for his mental and physical condition. Five years ago, she came in contact with Children of the Nations (COTN) through the local health animators—women from surrounding villages who partner with COTN to help educate their communities about health and hygiene. This initiative had just began at the time, and because of these women Christiana visited COTN’s medical clinic, located close to her village. She and Mohamed have been involved with COTN ever since.

Mohamed is now nine years old. He’s part of COTN’s Village Partnership Program in Banta Mokelleh, Sierra Leone and has been attending COTN’s school for the last five years. Mohamed is mentally handicapped and he was one of the reasons COTN–Sierra Leone launched the Challenge Children’s Program three years ago. The program gives special attention and focus—especially in school—to children who have special needs. Thought to be possessed with demons or accused of being witches, handicapped people and children in Sierra Leone are often mistreated or left to fend for themselves. Through the Challenge Children’s Program, COTN is slowly beginning to change this cultural myth. Christiana is grateful since she has the same attitude toward her child as COTN. “Most parents of special needs children in the Banta community don't place value or worth in their child, but not Christiana,” says Sarah Saunier, COTN–International Education Assistant, who recently spent about six months in Sierra Leone. “She loves Mohamed and tries to help him at home as best as she can.”

“When I first met Mohamed,” Sarah says, “he couldn't even greet you in basic Mende (the local language) phrases or understand anything that was said to him in English. He couldn't write anything and he really wasn't trying at school. I think that he just came for the food.” This year Sarah noticed major improvements in Mohamed. He can greet in Mende and understand English. “He does great at writing his ABCs and numbers,” she adds.

Sarah attributes Mohamed’s success to his mom and to Aunty Miatta, who has had Mohamed in her first grade classroom for the past three years. The dedicated COTN teacher has tried different teaching strategies with him such as having him write in a sand box that she made to help develop his finger muscles and lots of one-on-one attention to help him learn.

That progress has helped develop Mohamed into a functioning child—who enjoys his classmates and his family. The plan for Mohamed is to continue at COTN’s school for as long as possible. “He really likes coming to school and is trying really hard,” says Sarah.

To help children in Africa and the Caribbean like Mohamed have a chance at a better life, support COTN’s Challenge Children’s Program.

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