Thursday, March 7, 2013
When Special Olympics coach and community leader Joyless Mambeya visited Mangulu village in Malawi to teach nutrition and hygiene, he discovered Aaron—a nine-year-old child with intellectual disability—tied to a tree.
Aaron is the oldest of five children and his mother began to restrict his movements when he was two years old as a way of managing the demands of a child with an intellectual disability. That meant Aaron spent hours secured to one spot, unable to participate in daily activities, unable to learn and to develop.
Coach Mambeya saw an opportunity to not only help Aaron, but help change the attitudes of a community. He untied Aaron and carefully explained to the child’s mother that Aaron was not dangerous to himself or others. He also discussed how it was important for Aaron to be active like other children and to learn about life in his village.
Soon, Coach Mambeya was visiting Aaron three times a week to help foster his physical, mental and emotional development, while also teaching his parents about Aaron’s unique needs and gifts. As their understanding began to widen, Aaron’s parents became inspired to educate other parents in their village how to care for children with intellectual disabilities and to embrace the dignity of every child. Today, Aaron is learning many new skills, including how to be a more active kid.
By working with just one child and one family, Coach Mambeya helped change longstanding attitudes, behaviors and beliefs in an entire community. After being tied to a tree for many years, Aaron is learning new skills and becoming a more active child. His parents are now helping to educate their whole community about how to accept and welcome people with intellectual disabilities.
This story has been published courtesy of Special Olympics. For more information, visit www.specialolympics.org