Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to represent ATE at a charity function at the Castle School in Newbury. It was a Curry and Quiz evening with the curry being cooked by the students. This is a school that caters for students of 16 years + with special needs. ATE has forged a close relationship with the school especially with one particular class who has taken the charity very much to its heart. Their teacher hoped that, by interaction with the charity and the children of Lawra and district, her students would realise that there are special needs children like them throughout the world.
I was struck immediately upon entering the school by how vibrant and colourful its environment is; how important first impressions count as a key to communicating to the whole school family what takes place therein. There is an inviting communal area encouraging convivial exchanges with fellow students, teachers and other members of the school community.  I remember well the confident, smiling faces of the students facing the ‘customers’ approbation at the end of the evening and it confirmed my belief that this was a very special place set up to facilitate the more vulnerable people in our society to find their rightful role …

Castle school fundraiser
Meanwhile, several thousand miles South in North West Ghana there is SNAP.
SNAP stands for ‘Special Needs Awareness Programme’ and was set up by Sarah and ATE when it was realised that there was an urgent need to support children living in Lawra with special needs.
If you compare and contrast the yawning gap between the fortunate children of Newbury and the dire situation that the children in Ghana with disabilities (both physical and learning) find themselves in, one could weep at the inequality. They have much to carry on their vulnerable shoulders.
These children carry with them a curse, according to local custom, and they are shunned by local society; they are regarded as unlucky, even bewitched or demonic. Small business owners who are parents of such children suffer too, as they are unable to sell their wares because of the superstition that surrounds their children.
To us in the West, this situation is inconceivable and deeply upsetting. Local traditional culture is deeply embedded and these habits die hard. So it is all the more admirable that SNAP has been set up at all.

The enlightened position and attitudes of SNAP have brought about a rebirth of these young people: finally out in the open, mixing with other families, sharing their problems and experiences, playing, having fun and educating carers and parents. It has encouraged the community to begin to consider that these children can be valued members and indeed have the right to be accepted.
It’s chilling to think of the valuable work being done at the Castle School and comparing the plight of those in Lawra and surrounding districts. But SNAP and ATE have started on the considerable journey of righting those wrongs and as demonstrated above has had some great successes. There is an abiding image of a young disabled girl in the film with the broadest of smiles. That smile has many stories to tell I’m sure but the main message is a triumphant one
This article is by way of introducing, in an anecdotal kind of way, a formal SNAP Evaluation Reports compiled by Leela setting down the successes of The SNAP group. What I have set out here, is encompassed in the data in the report.  It makes for heart-warming reading to learn of the progress made in such a short time, taking into account the obstacles faced. The report have been compiled as a result of meticulous analysis of parent and carer feedback. It contains poignant comments from parents which illuminate both successes and failures. At the moment, 153 disabled children and their families are receiving support from ATE. It sets out in detail the kind of help that is offered. Its ultimate aim is to give these vulnerable young people some dignity in coming to terms with their disability, to reduce their social isolation and to make it possible to offer inclusion into the school system. You can read the full report here: snap-evaluation-report-brief
As an exciting new development Jonathan Hall, who is one of ATE’s newest volunteers and a professional artist, will be making his way to Lawra for a six week project developing creative activities with the children involved with SNAP. This is exciting given the situations most of the children find themselves in and gives them a previously unthought-of exposure to paint, crayons, pastels and clay to explore and express themselves in a more unconventional but rewarding way.

Jonathan has made 2 preliminary visits to Lawra already and has met many of the children he’ll be working with. He is busy in preparation for his 6 week project and all of us will be watching from the side-lines with great interest and anticipation.
By Mair Reed.