On September 24, representatives of the Youth Ambassadors Program held a meeting with various community stakeholders regarding disabled persons in Abaco and The Bahamas.
Four Abaco students were selected for the Youth Ambassadors Program in The Bahamas, which is sponsored by the US Embassy. Those students are Berthony McDermott from SC Bootle, Catalina Albury from Forest Heights, Kandise Kelly from Forest Heights and Conrad Cornish from Abaco Central High.
Kimberly Rahming is the group’s mentor.
The group of three students (Berthony, Catalina and Kandise) introduced themselves and their intentions to those who attended the meeting. They explained how they felt the need to address the needs of the disabled in their community and how being a part of the Ambassadors Program gave them the tools to start a dialogue with the community. Their fourth member, Conrad Cornish, could not attend as he was in Nassau.
Neda Brown, US Embassy Representative, gave brief remarks as well. She explained how the group of students decided to help the disabled in their community, and that they made the decision without pressure from Program leaders. Ms. Brown shared her belief that, “Full inclusion of those with disabilities enhances the community.”
After Ms. Brown’s remarks, the group shared a video they are producing. The video was an emotional and candid interview with students and teachers in different schools regarding the treatment of those with disabilities and the challenges with including them in different aspects of the community. The video was a work in progress, but already is a powerful piece of media.
After the video presentation the group opened the floor to discussion. They led the discussion with questions about the integration of disabled children in the education system and elsewhere.
Catalina Albury remarked about how much we take for granted and how difficult it is to help those with disabilities when there is such a stigma attached to “special schools.” She said parents making decisions may also feel sending their child to a special school as a form of surrender, or giving up – thereby making special needs education even more challenging.
Ms. Albury concluded that what fits one person is not suitable for everyone.
Jim Richard, Principal of Forest Heights Academy, spoke on the challenges inherent in the educational system regarding special needs and disabled children in The Bahamas. He gave an example of a former FHA student, Anna Albury, who was born blind but exceeded in her academics and was at the top of her class. Mr. Richard said that without the efforts to incorporate students like Anna into a regular classroom, they may be never have that chance to excel.
Mr. Richard and Lynn Major (Principal/Founder of Every Child Counts) also briefly explained a pilot program between Forest Heights and Every Child Counts to help students who bridge the gap between needing special education and functioning in a “normal” classroom.
Charlamae Fernander, Assistant Director the Dept. of Social Services – Abaco, spoke about how helping the disabled must be a community-wide issue and a continuous process. “Never be finished,” she said, “Make adjustments. Keep making progress.”
Ms. Fernander spoke about establishing a registry of disabled persons on Abaco. With a registry it will be easier to help those who would otherwise fall through society’s cracks. She is seeking the community’s assistance in this manner.
Pastor Deion Gibson (First Assembly of God Church) said the religious community needs to step up to the plate. He explained how many Christians expect prayers to immediately result in healing, and when that is not experienced there is “a disconnect” in what they believe and what they are confronted with. This leads many in the church to shun the disabled and in doing so have done a great disservice to many.
Pastor Gibson said that, in his church, they have started to actively involve those with disabilities and he has found it to be a great outreach and ministry.
All agreed that the key is to simply start a community dialogue. The more interaction there is the more sensitivity there will be on the subject and in interactions.
The Youth Ambassadors Program is a three-week exchange that is held in the United States for high school students and adult mentors. The primary program themes are civic education, community service, and youth leadership development.