What an adventure and completely eye opening experience I had on Feb 18, 2012.
As I landed in Accra, West Africa the weather was extremely hot and sticky. There were hundreds and hundreds of people that walked the streets. The culture was noticeably different right away. There were many children and families coming right up to our shuttle bus asking us for money or anything we could offer them.
Even though many in this country have nothing even close to what we have in the States, they were so sweet and all had smiles on their faces. Each person I spoke to worked as many days as they could just to survive and all were grateful for even having a job.
The customer service in the hotel was the best I have ever witnessed. They all went above and beyond to make sure all the guests were satisfied. They went as far as even learning many of the patron’s names.
As the day approached for me to head to the Life Without Barriers conference I had to figure out how to get there, as even though it was not many miles away, the traffic was very heavy. Most drove approx. 15 to 25 miles an hour, which made the trip long. It took me an hour and half by taxi to get to Tema, where the conference was being held. Along the way we drove through a town where people sell anything, mostly used items to make their living. People walk the streets with a special type of hat that holds anything from baskets to chairs on their heads. As I approached the building where the conference was, I was in amazement anyone could find it, as the dirt roads that we had to take were very tricky. There was no air conditioning in part of the building and yet even though all were baking and melting in their clothes each person had a grin that could light up a room.
The coordinators had worked with a local non-profit that allowed them to use the building. The building was gorgeous. I met the missionaries that built it and told me it was their calling to do so.
As the room filled up with parents, professionals, and loved ones wanting to learn more about how to treat autism my heart began to hurt as I knew that these families had very limited resources. I realized at that moment that no one in the States should ever complain about limited resources, as it doesn’t even compare. I learned that some villages believed that their children were possessed by demons and would perform rituals to try to free the children. Tears flooded my eyes often, as I knew it was just because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what autism was.
There were handfuls of amazing individuals there who have children with autism who have learned ways to help them and they are doing their best to spread the message. However, they need more forces and voices to help them. The job is quite big and definitely needs much attention.
I had learned of the conference and had been planning to go to Africa for personal reasons and it was by total coincidence that I was there at the same time of the conference.
I discovered the woman who was in charge, she was a doctor in New Jersey but was originally from Ghana who had a child on the spectrum and wanted to give back to her homeland. She is quite remarkable and has a very big heart. I had contacted her and let her know I would be there and would love to volunteer and speak about diet and digestion. She was so gracious and gave me part of her speaking slot as the slots had been filled.
I learned quickly about the foods available in Ghana and was able to explain how important diet is for our kiddos and give them examples of the foods they had readily available in their country. I then explained digestion and how that works in the body.
All of the people that attended received samples of Enzymedica’s Digest Spectrum. Enzymedica also donated door prizes with larger bottles and DVD’s. The families truly were grateful and it was obvious that the diet and digestion information was much needed. I know that many won’t be able to easily get Enzymedica’s products however, for those that can, I know it will help them. It was great to know we could at least help them understand the importance of diet and digestion.
This is a moment I will never forget. Parents hugged me and thanked me from the bottom of their heart. I just wish I could have done more. I can tell you that Africa will always have a special place in my heart and I felt so honored to be part of such an amazing conference.
The speakers were terrific and educated on biomedical, occupational therapy, speech language pathologist, special education and more. Huge kudos to Autism Research Institute and all of the other amazing organizations that helped sponsor this conference. And a huge thanks to Dr. Genevieve Kumapley from New Jersey, the Super Mom that put this whole conference together and let me speak as part of her speaking time.
This is a time in my life I will never forget and always cherish.