ABOUT SIERRA LEONE AUTISTIC SOCIETY (SLAS)
In 2017 SLAS became a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and established The Browne-Penn Special Education School, the first ever ‘special’ school of its kind in Sierra Leone; for children with autism, and other developmental disabilities whom SLAS feels can benefit from the school’s programmes. The school, which currently is limited to 30 pupils (due to limited space), offers SLAS’ supported special education programmes within which all aspects of the curriculum are adapted to ensure every child participates effectively. Each child has an individual education plan with specific goals to ensure progress. Trained and qualified staff ensure that the children are effectively taught not only academic work, but also self-help and social skills, with substantial opportunities for learning through play.
SLAS ensures weekly community and recreational visits for its pupils in the educational programme, to aid learning, build community relationships and to develop social skills. Additionally, SLAS has links with mainstream schools, and undertakes school trips and other activities (educational and non-educational) with their partner schools to enhance and support inclusive education and increase visibility.
Play Scheme: The power of play for children cannot be underestimated. SLAS established the Sierra Leone Inclusion Project (SLIP) Centre in Makeni, in partnership with Disability Africa (a UK International NGO); which is accessed by over one hundred and twenty (120) children and young people with all categories of disability and many of their non-disabled peers five days a week. This centre acts as a hub from which holistic services (health, education and social) are provided; for example, if a child or young person needs physiotherapy then they will be supported with that need, if they need support with education, etc., then those vital support are provided. The centre is inclusive as children and young people with disabilities interact there with their non-disabled peers.
Family/Care giver support: SLAS’ carer support groups are helping to limit social isolation of families impacted by autism and disability issues; particularly those with neuro-developmental disorders. Carers learn more about their children’s conditions, and in turn, how to better care for their children for better outcomes. SLAS currently support over 200 carers via support groups.
Sensitization: SLAS’ sensitization team have reached thousands of citizens through TV, radio, foot soldiers in the communities including schools and places of worship, and so forth. Many of our carers who are mainly single mums and elderly grandmothers, are now getting the opportunity to go out and earn a living, pursue studies, get some respite, etc. It is very important to also mention that SLAS is helping to reduce harmful practices directed towards children with autism and disabilities as all our services serve as ‘child protection’ mechanisms too. Additionally, we ensure that we work with our carers so that they will better care for their children/young people and thereby ensure better outcomes for their children and young people with autism and disabilities.
Training: Through effective training for health, education and social care workers, as well as parents/carers: SLAS has ensured that (i) many now understand more about autism, (ii) access to diagnostic services is now possible for those whom SLAS cater for, (iii) there exists effective and well trained pool of people who can work with children and young people with autism and disabilities. Been able to diagnose means that other ‘harmful labels’ like witchcraft, possession, demonic, have less chance of getting the attention, thereby helping to reduce stigma and harmful practices directed at such children. SLAS has also provided training for other NGOs, and Government institutions like the National History Museum and the National Railway Museum, amongst others, mainly to promote disability awareness.
Advocacy: SLAS advocates for many things, and these are just some examples:
- SLAS campaigned for the government to include disability issues in the national strategic plan: SLAS in partnership with the Director of social welfare presented a case for this to the working group who were tasked with developing the national strategic plan; ‘the empowerment of persons with disability’ as a cluster on its own, was the outcome.
- SLAS advocates for teachers to be trained in issues of disability and related conditions. As a result, SLAS is leading the ‘disabilities’ steering committee for one of two objectives for the Freetown City Council’s ‘Transform Freetown City’ agenda; where as a committee we have been tasked with ensuring that at least one teacher in half of all Freetown schools would have received training to become trainers on ‘special needs education’, and SLAS is actively working on this with other partners.
- SLAS is a key member of the UNCRPD Committee headed by the Ministry of Social Welfare. SLAS played a key role in the writing and validation of the first UNCRPD report (draft) in twenty years, and SLAS’ role within Sierra Leone (as a complementing partner) can be seen clearly within this report.
- SLAS works closely with key government ministries; especially the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for the benefit of our children and families. We use key events, such as World Autism Awareness Day, to carry out advocacy and sensitization. For some of these events we ensure partnership with key stakeholders including parents/carers, Government ministries, other NGOs, etc.
- The approval of Browne-Penn Special Education School (BPSES) as a Government approved school; this means Government of Sierra Leone will be supporting BPSES with subvention; which in turn means ‘sustainability’ for the school.
Our soon to start (October 2020) initiative focuses on:
- Delivering appropriate early years support in Freetown for children under-five years with autism and intellectual disabilities; this does not relate to Browne-Penn Special School, as BPSES takes children from five years and over.
- Outreach centres, one in Freetown, Kabala, and one in Bo; where we address needs through home visiting and outreach activities.
- After school and weekend youth clubs in Freetown, Bo and Kabala for autistic children/those with intellectual disabilities;
- Supporting families and caregivers in their multiple roles through carer support groups at all locations;
- Early intervention through home visits and outreach in all three areas;
- Community café in Freetown that offers a safe space, vocational training opportunities and increased visibility for autistic young people and those with intellectual disabilities;
- National awareness-raising campaign in communities and through multi-media outlets.
SLAS INCLUSIVE CAFÉ
The Community Café will form part of the Autism Inclusion Centre and will offer vocational training opportunities for young people and adults (aged 18 and above), a safe space and increased visibility for autistic young people and those with intellectual disabilities. It will provide a further avenue for individuals and families to access support from the Autism Practitioners based at the Freetown centre.
A total of 45 autistic young people and adults and those with intellectual disabilities will be able to take advantage of a variety of organised vocational training activities, such as those relating to customer service, catering and the hospitality industry, as well as the strengthening and development of life skills. Fifteen young people and adults will join the programme each year. The young people will be those who have now left their special school, as well as those in the community who perhaps did not attend school but have been assessed as having the potential to benefit from aspects of the programme. All will carry out various roles in the café.
After training, SLAS will introduce trainees to the growing tourism/hospitality sector in Freetown and support people to find employment where possible, as well as overseeing the detail of contracts. We have had some positive discussions with two hotels about possible future roles and have meetings arranged with some other warm contacts (these are typically places where an owner/manager has a connection to disability in some way and understands our vision).
The café will run inclusive arts and crafts projects and social activities for everyone in the community and will also hold disability awareness sessions in which people can share their experiences in creative ways and promote understanding.
SLAS INCLUSIVE CAFÉ; We will train our young people on the following
- Food hygiene and safety
- Food production and cooking
- Servicing: Waitress/Waiter
- Planning and team work
- Purchasing and Delivery
SLAS INCLUSIVE CAFÉ WILL ALSO BE CHILD/YOUTH/DISABLED FRIENDLY;
- Comfortable seats
- Games/play area
- Menus; should be available on Ipads visually & in audio, braille formats, etc.
- Free wifi – limited time
- Wheel chair accessible
- Meat pies – baked
- Sausage rolls (Sierra Leone style) – baked
- Chips – fry
- Plantain – fry
- Rice/spaghetti/cous-cous; boiled/steamed
- Sandwiches – variety
- Chicken/fish – Grilled and fried
- Cakes – variety – baked
- Tea – variety, including lemon grass tea
- Soft drinks: Coke, sprite, fanta, vimto, malt, etc.
- Fruit cocktails; non-alcoholic & pure fruits
Deep fryer Pots, pans, cake tins
Cooker (electric or gas) Mixers; for cakes
Freezer Tea kettles, flasks
Crockery (plates, dishes, cups) Aprons, hair nets, snoods, gloves (food/cleaning gloves)
Smoothie makers/blenders Chopping boards
- Crockeries & cutleries to include disabled friendly range; e.g. easy grip spoons, cups with straws, etc
Pool table, Air hockey (games)
Sofas, tables and chairs
Wall mounted TV, Music system (CD/DVD player, etc., ); ipads for menus, projector & screen
Air conditioning unit (mobile or wall mounted)
Play resources for young children including sensory toys/books
Arts and craft resources
Printer, Computer (1 or 2) – desk top or lap tops (for trainees who need access)