On April 24, 2014, an academy attending to ‘special needs children’ had an “opened house” in Sinkor, Monrovia. The formal opening is scheduled for Wednesday, May 7.
Known as “First Start”, the academy has announced that its doors will be opened to all children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s syndrome, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
According to the CEO of Health Page Liberia, an organization that has air lifted Liberian children in need of medical treatment to various countries for the past seven years, Mrs. Charlesetta N. Williams, opening an institution like the First Start Academy has always been a dream of hers.
“My dream to have a center for children with autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and other conditions is coming true.” Mrs. Williams stated.
Mrs. Williams, who is the CEO, has tirelessly worked towards laying a foundation for children who cannot lay one down for themselves. She told the public that all of her efforts in establishing such an academy can be credited to her birth children, Dr. Clarice Ford-Kulah, Mr. Okeke Browne, and Mr. Sekou Browne, who reside in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
“I want to say thank you to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW), through Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, Deputy Minister Vivian Cherue, and the Director of Rehabilitation, Esther Grant. All of these people have worked with us tirelessly, and we thank them for their dedication.
“Even though I have opened this home, it will be a model for the Government of Liberia. The government should feel free to come in at anytime and be able to do whatever they want. I am especially grateful to them for the fact that they have met me half way, giving us a registered nurse who will be giving her full time services, two social workers, and a physical therapist,” Mrs. Williams elaborated.
She assured everyone present that the staff and administration of First Start would do all within their power to defend special needs children since most of them lack the ability to defend themselves. Mrs. Williams, a Social Worker, stated that First Start can boast professional caregivers and a residential Matron.
“I expect my staff and myself to work very closely with these children and help them. We can assure Liberia and the whole world there will be no abuse at this academy. I’m going to make sure that these children are cared for. My staff and I will continue to act passionately,” she promised.
The First Start Academy said their doors are opened to all special needs children, regardless of race, nationality, or type of disability.
“We take them from any age up to 15 years old. It’s an ‘open door policy.’ We want people to feel free to come at anytime. We want the press to know that if you’re a parent and you have a special needs child, we can help take care of them. We know these children are special and cannot be left with just anybody. It is not possible. We need them to know that is why the First Start academy is here. We pray for support from UNICEF that would allow us to pick up and drop off any children who are attending the academy,” she disclosed.
First Start offers its services from 7:30 am to 6 pm. The academy has a cozy residential environment that offers counseling, physiotherapy and monitoring systems to make sure that each child is protected.
Four of the 16 registered children, were accompanied by their parents, yesterday at the opening of “First Start”. One parent, Wattah Kanneh, could not conceal her happiness over the opening of the academy.
“I was invited by Mrs. Williams and have decided that my two-year-old son should board here, it will be better for him. They say he will be exercised and trained; if he stays home, he won’t get that. I’m happy,” stated Ms. Kanneh.
Also, two social workers who were present during the opening of the academy expressed their interest in working with the disabled children.
“The Ministry of Health donated two of us social workers and a registered nurse. I have never come in contact with such a center though I have worked with children who have disabilities, it’s a challenge for me, but I want to see how it will be and see if I like it, and how it works,” stated Magdalene Doe.
Washington Bah, a social worker, who eagerly anticipates his position working with the children, described how he feels he can contribute to the academy.
“I am disabled myself, and have worked for the past 21 years with disabled people with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. I can bring that experience to the table. That is why my director asked that I come here .I am thankful to Mrs. Williams because there has never been anything like this academy in Liberia before, and I pray that the government will continue to be at the forefront of this endeavor. There are a lot of kids with disabilities in our country, if government supports Mrs. Williams, we will be able to offer them a better quality of life.” He added.
Mrs. Williams showed her appreciation to her children, who are all involved in the medical field and her initiatives in Liberia.
Unfortunately, funding is a challenge in Liberia, and Mrs. Williams has vowed not to give up in her quest to pursue further aid for her children.
“Funding is an issue. We have a lot to achieve, but we will continue to work with the challenges. I’m going to go abroad and ask for assistance. I will continue to serve our children.” she concluded.