Help me build a school to give disabled kids a chance
ASOUTHPORT social worker embarked on a trip to Malawi as she seeks to raise money for educating disabled children in the southern African nation.
Teresa Smith, 58, is a victim of the thalidomide scandal, and is wheelchair bound, but it did not stop her from travelling to Malawi and visiting a school for the disabled there at the invitation of Father Blaise Jailosh, a Malawian priest with whom she struck up a friendship while he was working in Crosby.
Having seen the lack of resources at the school, she has set up the Teresa Smith Foundation which will be raising money to build a new one.
Teresa said: “The reason I went to Malawi was that a good friend of mine, Fr Blaise, was telling me that there were very few facilities for disabled children.
“He thought there was a thalidomide child, and with me being thalidomide he just wanted some clarification.
“The nuns were looking after him and they needed some help in deciding what medical treatment he may need, he’s only 11 so obviously the drug is still going around.
“He’s very, very small, his legs are twisted and his arms aren’t fully formed, he could have done with medical support earlier on in his life.
“He hasn’t even got a wheelchair, he can walk very, very little so he’s carried around virtually all the time.
“So I went out there to see him and ended up working in one of the disabled schools.
“There’s about 25 children there, and the biggest luxury of the day is to look forward to having an ice pop; they have hardly any visitors.
“It was really sad, they’re in big adult wheelchairs and they’re all taught the same, there’s nothing geared to them, there’s no equipment for them. The resources are really poor, there’s no crayons or books, very little for them to do.
“They were delighted to see me, I brought them sweets and we all sang together.
“When we look at our own disabled children and the support we have for them, thank God we’ve got integration now within schools, but these kids are just sitting there.
“It looks like a military camp from World War Three, it’s run by nuns who have to beg for everything they get, even their food.
“There’s no resources out there, no benefits.”
Teresa’s trip was given added drama when she had an awkward, and dangerous, encounter with a wild elephant, when it paid her a visit in the toilet
She explained: “We went for a day out to a national park and noticed that the elephants were going towards the bush.
“The next thing the elephant turns towards us, Fr Blaise was panicking and couldn’t get the car into gear to get it going.
“I was laughing away, and the next thing I see that the elephant was really looking at me – I had quite a colourful pink and white dress on.
“We did a tour, came back to the lodge and I went to the toilet.
“When I was in there I could hear Fr Blaise shouting to me ‘don’t come out Teresa, don’t come out there’s an elephant outside!’
“I didn’t believe it, I’ve got a really good relationship with Fr Blaise and he knows my sense of humour so I thought he was winding me up. So I came out of the side entrance and there it was, right outside the toilet.
“I had seen the curtain flapping in the toilet and I did think ‘it’s 100 degrees, how’s the curtain flapping?’, and then I realised that it must have been the trunk.
“So the elephant was facing me, my wheelchair wouldn’t go into gear, I reversed over a poor lad’s foot when I did get it moving.
“I laugh about it now but it was quite scary.
“I didn’t realise how wild the African elephants were, they can do a lot of damage – another priest was killed by one which is why Fr Blaise was so worried.”
But the experience did nothing to dampen Teresa’s enthusiasm for the project, and she said that she hoped to build partnerships with schools in England when the Malawian school is up and running.
She said: “It’s sad because there’s obviously some very intelligent children who need to be brought on, and given the right support and resources.
“We could do with having a collection for them so we can get them toys, as there’s no toys either, pens and paper, just the basics.
“I was even having to give bread out, we ran out and there were still loads of people still needing to be fed.
“It was heart wrenching to have to say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve no bread left to give you’.
“I’ve been a social worker for 25 years so I’m kind of used to it, but you’ve got to have a heart of stone to not be affected.
“I want to raise funds to do more if we can, it’s a magical project.
“I’d like to build a complete new school for disabled children and nondisabled children and integrate them, they’d have a far better lifestyle and give them some more purpose in life.
“They can learn at schools and earn their own money.
“Technology is so good now that we could set up partnerships with schools over here.”
For more information on the foundation, email Teresa on golden[email protected] googlemail.com