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; serving children who were orphaned because of their disability or providing one area of service, i.e. physical therapy. Special Hope stood out to me due to their drastically different model; they are centered on not only the children, but 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 instead 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 continue working with their child in many different domains (fine motor, academics, feeding, communication, gross motor, etc.) at home in their daily activities. They spend two of the days demonstrating activities, exercises, and concepts to the parents to work on at home, and then every Friday is when the parents can practice those skills under the close supervision of a staff member.
The other part of Special Hope that stood out to me while I was there was their focus on intellectual disabilities. All of the children have some form of intellectual disability, and most have physical ones as well. However, Special Hope believes it is just as important, if not more, to address the cognitive development of an individual as well. A child who learns to walk but cannot comprehend safety could be in a more dangerous position and more dependent on a caregiver than a child who cannot walk or run yet, but knows how to communicate, stay safe, and perform activities of daily living independently. This results in having three other rooms in addition to gross motor; they have communication, sensory, and academic rooms that the child goes to every time to learn various 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 this world, children and adults with disabilities are often 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 being strongly communicated that these children are worth it. That they are loved. That they are created in God’s image. And that 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 effectively 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 CCCs, Special Hope gives a space for the mothers to see that special gift God has given their children, 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 showed me how disability is no different across the world or in a different culture; God created, loves, and works through every child and adult no matter how they were made and Special Hope is presenting that idea to Lusaka, one child at a time.