Each month ATE hosts three SNAP (Special Needs Awareness Programme) meetings across the Lawra District; the first Wednesday of each month, the Inclusion Centre hosts Lawra SNAP meeting. The second to last Saturday of the month, one of our partner schools, Dowine JHS hosts the Domwine SNAP meeting. The last Saturday of the month, you’ll find the SNAP Partner Group- Esong Jirapa, sat under a tree.
I’ve been fortunate to accompany Kaamil Issahaku, the SNAP Lead and Ernestina Gan the Play-Scheme Coordinator to many SNAP meetings, but always on a Saturday. Scheduling clashes meant I was yet to attend a Lawra SNAP meeting on a Wednesday…until this week.
Wednesday morning arrived and I got to the Inclusion Centre early, 7.45am, so that I could attend to some things before the day began. But outside the gates were three ladies and a small baby, stood as though they had been waiting a while. Once greeting them (badly) in Dagaare, the local dialect, I welcomed them into the Centre. They came for the meeting, although many hours early, as the set time each meeting is 10am.
Soon, the clock didn’t reach 8.30am and many more arrived.
Not before long the Hall was filled with colour and the smiles and play of children.
As you walked into the Hall, to your right was a horseshoe of around 34 women and to your left were 15 children and grandchildren of the SNAP members.
Since the successful launch of the July 2019 playscheme, we have now integrated this into SNAP Meetings.
Each meeting, Kaamil and a small group of voluntary committee members (from the local area) will greet everyone and gather the attendance records. Whilst Ernestina will greet the children and set up the activities. This creates a wonderful vibrant atmosphere where the adults can focus on the content of the session that day and the children can enjoy what every child enjoys, the chance to play.
This Wednesday’s SNAP meeting was a chance for me to finally attend and greet the group. With 34 women and 1 male, the rhythm of the clapping made the children smile. They sat listening to their Committee Member and Kaamil while I watched on. Once they knew I was a new face to them, murmuring began. When Kaamil translated, he told me they were trying to think of a welcome song to greet me properly.
First was one voice, then two and then the melody struck. They sang and smiled and I couldn’t believe my ears. The room had been filled with colour and laughter and now a melody that was truly jubilant and warm.
Looking around at this room, you cant help but smile. The innocence of the children as they made paperchains anyway they could. Giggling and being silly as they posed for pictures. The Women smiling, listening patiently and building confidence to speak up.
But looking around this room you also realise what a rareity a site like this is in Lawra, Upper West Ghana and even across the World.
Isolation, discrimination and segregation are experiences these SNAP members experience daily. For some, a disability is seen as a curse. For others, an incurable illness.
Stories of poverty, abuse, abandonment are all too common.
But often the work of ATE isn’t to focus on the bleak and misery. Its to bring solutions, empowerment and joy. The SNAP programme does exactly this.
These SNAP meetings are precious. In this space all members, adult and child, are welcome and made to feel safe and feel respected.
From songs and dances to external speakers and specialists. Assessments for wellbeing and health to workshops on sanitation or health awareness. SNAP Meetings bring some of the most excluded and disadvantaged in the Lawra district into a space where first they are human, not defined by physical or mental ability, nor defined by gender or status.
However, once the SNAP meetings are over, it’s a different story.
Smiles and energy are found within the meeting.
But once you see any of these women or children outside of the Centre, their stature and energy change. They return to feeling nervous, shy, insecure. Head often down as they walk.
But I made sure to greet them, smile. At first theyre shocked, as though theyre asking ‘Am I being greeted in public’ but soon the smile grows from ear to ear.
Its sad to think that people’s home and Inclusion Centre may be the only safe space for them, where they’re accepted and respected. Yet even stories of abuse mean the home isn’t always a safe space for these children and their guardians.
Although once a month, the SNAP families know they are welcome to the Inclusion Centre any time, which we see, as around 60% of our visitors are here on SNAP business. Perhaps just to drop in, enquire about their case work or request support.
The smiles and melodies of these SNAP women will never leave my heart. Its my hope as I and the ATE staff continue to wave in public, greet people and see beyond a disability or condition, that community members do this also.
Change happens one person at a time.
By Jessica Cruse