Families from all walks of life gathered at the gates of the Debora foundation, all with their own heartfelt stories about raising children with Down syndrome, to collect T-shirts for a fundraising march to take place on March 20, 2022. The families were unable to speak, with eyes tearing up with the mere mention of their situation, but did not go without mentioning the gratitude they have for the foundation and its gracious act that chose to consider them when no one else did.
Founded by Abadula Gemeda, former speaker of Ethiopia’s parliament, and named after his daughter, the Debora foundation, established in 2019, has been tirelessly working to create an inclusive environment, where kids with special needs can come together and thrive. They have so far set up a space where children with intellectual disabilities are welcomed to stay.
The foundation has reached out to 1000 families with children with Down-syndrome and currently works with 50 families, providing counseling and experience sharing sessions.
“It really is amazing to see the kids feel comfortable. We have a monthly session with the parents and children where we provide information. We give them seminars on things they should know. They can also leave their children here. Most importantly, we have a support group with parents who are more or less going through similar experiences,” said Kineab Tesfaye, a physiotherapist at the institution.
Lower-class families who do not have access or the means to give their children with intellectual disabilities the right settings, education and care, are afforded the chance to bring their children to a place where they are accepted, not looked down on and most importantly, are given the necessary attention they need.
“We accept families from all walks of life. Financial abilities are not a factor in providing the services we’re currently giving out. We sometimes even open our doors for families with other types of intellectual disabilities,” said Yohannes Gizaw, a General Practitioner at the foundation.
“We conducted a particular survey with the Addis Ababa Educational Bureau regarding the society’s outlook on intellectual disabilities. The survey was carried out in 49 schools and we have presented our findings to more than 200 professionals with the ability to make a difference in bringing forward a more inclusive education,” added Yohannes.
According to a 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) report, over one billion people are estimated to experience disabilities. This corresponds to about 15 percent of the world’s population.
In Ethiopia, being a country that is ill-equipped to deal with children and adults with special needs, the lack of facilities has meant that families usually resort to hiding their children in fear of being shunted from society or have their children get looked down on. The foundation is trying to raise awareness.
The foundation is currently undertaking construction of a new compound that is set to be the biggest institution in the country specifically dedicated to people with special needs.
Located in Legetafo, the new facility rests on 58,473 sq.m of land, and will include educational facilities able to support elementary to preparatory students, a fully equipped medical ward with well-trained doctors and physiotherapists as well as a research center, a family counseling center and a recreational exercise spots.
The foundation is currently working on capacity building, collaborating with Karachi, a Down syndrome program located in Pakistan, to fully equip them when it becomes fully functional.
On top of this, it has partnered with Wudassie and Pioneer Diagnostics Center to provide children with Down syndrome an affordable medical care.
“We’re building our capacity now. We’re also working with AAU’s Department of Ophthalmology to give visually challenged children with Down syndrome screenings,” added Yohannes.
In order to raise awareness and funds, the foundation has organized a fundraising march commemorating World Down syndrome day, which is on March 21st. Yohannes explained the reason why the third month of the year is designated for World Down syndrome day saying medically, the syndrome is referred to as “trisomy 21” which means the third copy, hence the 21st day of the 3rd month.
The walk titled “March with Debora” is set to take place starting from mesqel square on Sunday March 20, 2022.
The walk is expected to raise awareness on the different kinds of intellectual disabilities.
“We would like to invite anyone and everyone to join us in the walk this Sunday, but on top of that, we want to encourage people to interact with children who have Down syndrome. They are socially capable and if everyone is to treat them with their potential in mind, we would all be better off for it,” Yohannes said.