Former student impacts children with disabilities in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is recognized as the poorest country in Central America. There is a shortage of educational and therapeutic options for families of children with intellectual disabilities. Parents are known to keep their children hidden away from the community.
That is why Paige Ferrell ‘17 knew she had to step in and make a difference.
We first introduced you to Ferrell and the Piece of Hope program in Fall 2017. After meeting a non-verbal student during a trip to Nicaragua in 2016, Ferrell had a new mission in life. After she graduated, she packed her bags and moved to the small town of Catarina.
Her passion was working with children with learning disabilities, but she never imagined how much of a need there was.
She immediately began working with a local teacher on how to do evaluations, provide therapy and look for other resources to help the growing number of families seeking assistance. Since then, Ferrell has worked to train two other teachers, bringing her total team to four.
While Ferrell’s background is in autism therapy, she is not turning away other students. In the current program, there are students with autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and microcephaly as well as other undiagnosed learning difficulties.
The team has connected with and provided services to 30 students. 20 students are currently receiving therapy several times each week. The program is provided at no cost to the families and also includes training for teachers and school administrators.
Piece of Hope currently operates out of a classroom at a local school. The problem is they are quickly running out of space. They are in the process of purchasing a second location.
“With this new location, we plan to have a full-time day program for our students 16 and older. They can come to practice daily living skills, social skills, skills to become candidates for work and feel as if they have a purpose like everyone else in this world,” said Ferrell.
The goal is to also expand the program to be a more intensive school setting for students younger than 15. Piece of Hope currently serves 10 students not attending or benefitting from the public school setting. The new location would give space to provide a daily setting for students with a mix of small group and individual instruction.
One of the challenges Ferrell found is that parents and teachers do not understand learning difficulties or diagnoses like autism. They have no resources to learn about modifying activities for these students who are learning at a different pace.
“This also affects how individuals with special needs are looked at by society. We have a student in our program who has autism and was bullied by other parents asking for him to be removed from the school setting so he doesn’t contaminate others. People are simply uneducated,” said Ferrell.
Ferrell said that not only is Piece of Hope providing academic support and therapy for these students, it is also supporting them emotionally and helping them connect with other families in the same situations.
“We plan to continue showing our surrounding communities what we are doing and that these individuals have a purpose just like everyone else with community events and training wherever doors are opened,” said Ferrell.
To learn more about Piece of Hope, visit tx.ag/pieceofhope.
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