Friday, 30 January 2009

Anita Goulden Home for those with physical and learning needs

This blog entry is different from previous ones as I aim to reach an audience that includes some ex colleagues and specialists in special educational needs. I hope that they may be able to offer some support or advice to the home. That said, it may of interest to others and I welcome all comments.

Anita Goulden's mission was to help children with disabilities who were poorly equipped to survive in their own communities. There is a link to the Trust's website at the top of the blog and many of its donors are based in the UK.

This view of the home is impressionistic based on several visits in a voluntary capacity. I got to know staff and residents fairly well as I visited 3 times a week over a period of a month. I engaged with children and young adults in order to provide some measure of enjoyable experience to their lives. My perspective is one of a welcomed visitor but I have a background in providing services for children and young people with disabilities.

The home is located in Piura in a sub-district called Miraflores in Northern coastal Peru. Miraflores is a middle class area comprised mainly of houses and apartments in tree lined roads. It is safe and patrolled day and night by private security staff paid for by the local people. There is a small and pretty park next to the home. The climate in this part of Peru is very hot. Think of the hottest summer day you can remember and you will be close to it – we are near the equator and the sun is therefore very strong and it rarely rains, even now in the rainy season.

The atmosphere in the home is warm and welcoming. Each of the residents is individually known and loved and staff are caring and respectful. The home is clean, hygienic and the food is simple, wholesome and plentiful. Care is good and personal relations are excellent. I felt very welcomed and enjoyed my visits.

The home is comprised of 2 main floors but the ground floor is where most of the activity takes place. There is a courtyard without the benefit of much shade, some dormitories, a therapy area, kitchen, bathroom, dining room and an inside sitting area; it is quite compact. The building is modern but in need of decoration. Upstairs there are a few more bedrooms, offices and a wide passage that can serve as a meeting point. There is no lift.

The home serves the needs of a very wide range of clients ncluding children and young people aged 6–34. Many have profound and multiple learning difficulties with complicating medical conditions, but others are ambulant and have mild learning needs. There is one young adult who is able bodied but is a social care placement. There are slightly more than 20 residents. Probably about half are in wheelchairs but only 2 or 3 can use them independently. There are few private areas and generally residents inhabit the same space and live collectively.

There is an experienced and cohesive group of 20+ staff who work in shifts, but mornings are most busy when children are bathed and some receive physiotherapy from an experienced staff member. There are always 2 or 3 nurses on call; many of the residents are incontinent and need other attention their duties are continuous and demanding. One child is fed by tube and some others have a mainly liquid diet. There are 2 directors who mange the staff and administration with the assistance of an administrative assistant; there is also a social worker/family liaison officer. There are cleaning, washing and cooking staff. There is a male attendant who acts as site manager and does most of the lifting and handling. There are no hoists.

All who lives in the home is valued and loved and their different personalities are allowed to emerge. There is friendly interaction between residents and the staff who are attentive and experienced in making life as tolerable as possible.

There isn't much equipment available. Some of the wheelchairs are of good quality and some of the residents wear body braces to help them sit upright or have specially fitted shoes.There are some walking frames. One or two of the residents have severe muscular and bone problems and are unable to do very much without assistance. Occasionally some of the residents exhibit distress and ritualised behaviours. The furniture is generally old with few adaptions.

During my visit it was school vacation time so many of the younger people would have normally been in school, but some were nevertheless attending catch-up classes. A special needs teacher visits 2 or three times a week during vacations and works with the children in school during term time.

There isn't really very much to do in the home but individual attention is sometimes provided by volunteers such as myself. However, the flow of volunteer helpers is sporadic. The residents like to be taken to the park and this is a regular jaunt enjoyed by all. There is one computer available but it is upstairs. There is one small TV. There is a newish table tennis table which is used occasionally. As far as I understand there is no work/occupational programme for older residents. It is the anniversary of the death of Anita Goulden so this evening there is a mass in a local church and on Monday we'll go to the cemetery to place flowers. At the weekend there is a visit to the beach which sadly I'll miss.

The needs of the residents vary greatly. Some are ambulant and withing the normal range of ability and social skills whilst others cannot move without assistance and have extreme communication and medical needs. Some of the older residents have communication difficulties and cannot converse except by gesture and a few words or sounds. There is no use of Makaton or similar visual sign language. One child is hyperactive and 3 are entering or going through a period of adolescence.

I have tried to offer my attention as widely as possible, engaging in a friendly and stimulating way matched to the needs of one or two individuals at a time. We have had several walks in the park, I have played number games with beads and number lines, brought in plasticine, played with my compass, ipod and camera, played table tennis and joined in with mealtimes. It seems little enough but my involvement seems to be valued, mostly I feel as a distraction from the daily routine. I chat with staff and seem to have been accepted as a friend of the home.

Yesterday, I visited with my friend Juan Miguel one of the projects being established by an ONG called Solcode, Maribel, its dynamic administrator, is in the process of setting up a direct sales shop of farmer produce; this is as a way of supporting poor farming communities high in the Sierras. The idea is that some of the residents from the Anita Goulden home would be able to assist with selling produce and other work in the shop. This could be as a form of work or work experience to help promte independence and offer a wider view of the world.. This is an excellent idea and opportunity and it felt good to be the vehicle by which this partnership might be achieved. Tomorrow my friend Sebastian will visit. He is a Korean doctor and may be able to help.I will be meeting up with the chair of the management committee next week and will visit the market to order supplies.

It will be sad to leave Piura and my friends at the home. I will miss the residents and staff – they have become an important part of my brief stay here in Northern Peru. Hopefully I can stay in touch and maybe even assist their progress in the future.

Please leave comments and let me know if you can help in any way.

1 comment:

snoopdoug said...

Inspiring stuff Alan. I've done some fund raising and manual work for the Children's Trust in Tadworth. I wonder (at the risk of sounding naff..) do these places twin up for awareness/fund raising purposes? Just thought that may be a way to help, let me know and I will try to reawaken some old contacts...

It's snowing like blimmin fury here