Disabled children get 'Early Stimulation'
Keisha Hill, Gleaner Writer
The Early Stimulation Programme (which includes the Early Stimulation Plus) is a department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), which has been catering to the needs of young disabled children and their families for more than 30 years. Since its inception in 1975, the programme has benefited more than 20,000 children with various types of disabilities across the island. It currently offers both centre- and community-based services through special intervention to some 1,241 children.
In another three weeks and with assistance from the Digicel Foundation, a new building will be opened to cater to more than 120 students who now access the facilities. Most of the children are from very poor homes, and their disabilities range from mild, moderate to severe. The aim of this programme gives the often-disregarded children an opportunity to reach their maximum potential.
Antonica Gunter-Gayle, director/principal of the Early Stimulation Programme and Stimulation Plus, is excited about utilising the new facilities as the current one is in dire need of repairs.
"Digicel Foundation fell in love with the work we are doing here. They wanted to reach out to children with special needs and have helped us with a new building," Gunter-Gayle said.
They are currently implementing the Centres of Excellence Programme geared at increasing the capacity of special-needs schools in Jamaica, improving equipment and materials, and providing training to special-needs educators and caregivers.
The foundation has formed a partnership with the MLSS as they have recognised the need to chart a new course of cooperation in the achievement of common objectives in enhancing the welfare and quality of life of children and persons with disabilities in Jamaica.
"There will now be eight new classrooms. The morale of the staff has been boosted, and parents are excited that their children will be taught in an environment that is more conducive to learning. The new facility will have special equipment and furniture that cater to children with disabilities. The staff is also being trained in specialist areas to be fully equipped to assist the children," Gunter-Gayle said.
10 years of social work
As part of its 10th anniversary celebrations, Digicel Found-ation will contribute J$27 million to the development activities of the Early Stimulation Programme. They will also construct a temporary facility to house students, while a permanent structure is being constructed by the MLSS. The temporary solution will be then used as administrative offices and staff training rooms.
"The new building will not just benefit the present population, but children to come. I am involved with this programme because of my love and passion for working with children with special needs. My mantra is: 'if I can help somebody as I travel along, then my living shall not be in vain'. I get joy and gratification from seeing the progress made by children with special needs," said the 26-year veteran of the Early Stimulation Programme.