Just as we prepared to solicit donations to revive our "Do The Right Thing" forum which had slumped in the wake of a heated argument over the meaning of "The" in its title, there came an enthusiastic lifeline in the form Senayt Getachew. Inspired by our feature article of the past month, "Mekasha's Mother", Senayt brings to our attention: SOOM -- Support Organization Of the Mentally-Handicapped.
Thank You, Fasil, the writer of April's article "Mekasha's Mother", for letting us all see a glimpse of what's reality for so many in Ethiopia, and for bringing into the eyes of the world our not-so-obvious heroes. You have painted a picture in my mind, -one of tenderness despite sadness, appreciation after loss, and unconditional love even as fear overwhelms.
I can only begin to imagine what Ayalnesh and Mekesha, and undoubtedly many, many others have gone through and still continue to go through today in Ethiopia simply because of the lack of awareness and understanding of mental retardation. It's human nature to be afraid of the unknown, often resisting acknowledgement and/or acceptance of situations that may be different from the norm. Added to that, we have a culture so intimately coupled with religion and accustomed to regarding what seems mysterious as one extreme or another, siTota or IrgimaN. If we can't explain it, it's either a gift or a curse, and that's the end of that. It's not at all unimaginable that many, much like Ayalnesh, have been accused of being the owner of that "...ill-fated womb..." and their children shunned from society as if they, the forever young and quite possibly the purest souls in society, would harm it simply by being in it.
Some have hidden their children from the world, shamed to have given birth to such an "imperfect" creation... The children have ended up back in the g'uAda or closed in their room, never to come in contact with anyone, save the hands that feed them...
When Tsebel couldn't make the child "normal", some have felt defeated, and accepted their fate as a sign of Yalemebarek... Some have traveled halfway across the world in anticipation of finding the medhaniet that would make this curse ebb...
When the retardation is not so sever, some have opted to suffer in silence and feign that their child is normal as can be...
Some have been sent to school only to be told that they are pitifully dedeB and yemaygebachew, never passing a grade and always available as the easy target for anyone so inclined to have a quick laugh...
Some, after having gone through their own share of shock, denial, guilt, and perhaps even a sense of loss when discovering their child's impairment, have come together to start what the children, and the country, so desperately needed, an organization that would recognize their disability, help and protect them.
Support Organization Of the Mentally-Handicapped (SOOM) is a non-profit humanitarian organization in Ethiopia, founded in 1994 by parents and concerned individuals to help those who are mentally handicapped. The organization's main objectives are to provide 1) health-care, legal protection and general well-being, 2) functional literacy and vocational training, 3) to upgrade awareness through seminars, workshops, and discussion forums, 4) to educate parents as well as the community at large on the causes and ways of helping the mentally-handicapped.
SOOM currently provides a school-type setting for the mentally-handicapped in Addis Ababa, where they learn various skills ranging from the often taken for granted and seemingly simple task of self-sufficiency (libs melbes, CHama madreg, meblat...) to playing and relating with other people in general (be it their peers or those older and/or younger than they), to creative works such as sifEt, yegabi/neTela sirawoch and carpet weaving. The organization highly encourages mothers of the children to take part in these activities, that being as much a part of the educational process.
This is a big step from where we were less than a decade back; however, we're still far from having reached that sense of comfort we hope will come when Ethiopia's mentally-handicapped are being given the proper care they require. The organization needs to, and is working on expanding their facility from what is right now simply one average-size rented house serving a small minority of the affected in Addis Ababa, to reaching all communities within and outside of the city. They also plan on starting much needed day-care centers for the younger mentally handicapped children, where speech therapy and physical therapy will be provided.
Although SOOM receives some assistance from Radda Barnen (Save the Children, Sweden), its main and significant source of income is donations, and much of the work done by volunteers and the children's parents.
To support SOOM, donations can be sent to:
Support Organization Of the Mentally-Handicapped (SOOM)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Donations can also be directly wired to:
Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Bole Branch
There are also opportunities for individuals and organizations to sponsor and assist with development of specific projects. (Please contact SOOM for more information on this).
More information can also be received by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
SOOM appreciates any contribution in kind. Volunteers are always welcome.