Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thursday Mornings

APEHM: Association de Parents et Amis d'Enfants Handicapés Mentaux
Translation: Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Handicapped Children

This Thursday my trip to APEHM was a special treat since my parents have arrived in Togo so they were able to accompany us and experience the privilege of working with these darlings. 

This school is funded by the parents of these children with Down Syndrome, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.  They arrange their own transport for the children to come to school every weekday (on motorbikes!), and also pay for them to receive hot food each day (total cost for food and transport equals almost $4/day - a small fortune when the average daily wage is $2.13!  This week was like most - we arrived after they had eaten their porridge and tea, and all three classes had joined together in our main gathering room.  We were warmly greeted with many smiles, handshakes and "Bon jours." 

Anita - with her beautiful smile.

We start with some singing in French -Kafui N, Kafui L, Mouka, Désiré and Pascal actively engaged in our activities.

Kokou, Efue and Rudolph listening as Jillian talks about kindness and Emmanuel translates.

After some songs and a short, simple teaching, we set to work coloring pictures.  Some lose their patience quickly with their worksheets, but many are fastidious about coloring, staying in the lines, and being good artists.

Déborrah was too shy to be in the picture with me.

Little Timothee couldn't believe that there was another Timothy (my dad) who was a Yovo (white man!)

And of course, with a camera, comes lots of posing!  Julie, Mouka and Pascal were eager to join Jillian in this photo.

Mouka and Kokou were happy to be taking a picture with this big American, even if he was working up a sweat already.

Mom helped make sure everyone had the colored pencils they needed.

 And these little hams, Anita, Julie and Stephanie were living it up!
The boy on the right is Espoir.  This means "hope."  He is a lovey dovey. 

 The first game we played after finishing our pictures was musical chairs.  The teacher (in the red tshirt at the far back right) chooses one of their favorite songs on the laptop, and controls the starting and stopping of the music in this high-tech version.  Espoir chose my dad as his fellow competitor in this game, where you don't just march around the chairs, you dance and jive however you see fit. 
Kokou and I were having fun watching this competition heat up (fortunately Dad let Linda win the finale - it was down to the wire though).

Merveille is a sweet little girl who always is dressed to the nines and has a smile that brightens the room.

Here's a little piece of evidence of Espoir's affection.  I don't think Gaston was appreciating it too much.

Espoir and I blow bubbles every week.  Some weeks he wraps his arms around my waist and barely gives me an inch to hold the wand away from my face before he blows perfect soapy bubbles all over my cheeks.  He has perfected the art of bubble lips. 

 Samson is another character that I can't forget to mention.  Samson always has a stick in his hand.  He walks in and out, never really engaging in our activities (unless they involve paint brushes! Watch out!), but he beats to his own drum.  He reminds me a bit of a wizard.
And all of this is made possible with Emmanuel - our translator who not only speaks English and French, but Ewe, the most common local language here which is the dominant language for these children.  French is generally studied in school, but Ewe is the home language, so for children with learning and mental disabilities, French is not the norm.

 After three hours we finish - sweaty, dirty, slobbered, but loved on.  This is one place that though it is exhausting, I seem to return with more energy and more joy.
I don't think it's just the dancing, singing and bubbles.  It's a glimpse into the contentment that comes when we don't focus on the things the world has to offer - but the simplicity of life as a child.

As Atsu's face shows- he knows who he is, and he's not afraid to show it!  I hope to one day fully experience this freedom - to be who I was created to be, not be afraid to hide it, and live it to the max.  These children remind me of what is important in life and for that I am grateful.

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