PART I: Coming to Ghana and Focusing on Learning Difficulties
Author: Sarah Kpentey
Q: What are the events that let you to come to Ghana?
Ms. Ubels: That goes back to when I was a young teenager. At the time I began to have an understanding about differences in the world. I’m from Holland, one of the well-to-do cultures in the world, and I became aware that things were not as good in other parts of the world as we had at home. So when I was about thirteen (13) years old I knew I wanted to work in development. At that time I was very idealistic; I wanted to save the world.
This motivated me to join a volunteering organisation after I completed the polytechnic. Through that organisation I was able to come to Ghana for nine (9) months in 1994. At that time there were not many white volunteers in Ghana, it was a bit new. I spent a few months in the Upper West region, then I came toAccra for the rest of the period. I worked for an organization that worked with street children and they were at that time based in Jamestown - Catholic Action for Street children (CAS.) I worked with them for close to five (5) months and got really involved.
After this period, I went to Holland. With a background in Management, I realised it would be difficult to find a position in a development work, so I decided on a profession in health. Then I had a combination of health and management. Four and half years later I could come back again to Ghana, same project, developing health education for the children on the streets and have remained ever since 2000.
Q: What is the story behind the formation of SAP?
Ms. Ubels: During the time I worked with CAS, teaching the street children about health, we realised some children had difficulty in grasping and retaining the information that we gave them. When we moved into teaching about life skills, we noticed the same trend. Then we also realised that the average age of children that came into our centre was coming down. In the early 2000’s ten (10) year old children were coming in. These children should have been in school.
We were running a programme that sent them to school and the much older ones into apprenticeship courses. We noticed however that, they didn’t stay in school or in the apprenticeship programme for long. Out of every ten (10) children that were sent to school or into apprenticeship, only three (3) or four (4) made it; the rest dropped out along the way. We knew that this was not due to financial problems because the centre was fully funding their education.
After we finished the health education, we undertook a survey about the reasons for drop out from the programme. We started with an initial hypothesis that these children experienced psychological trauma maybe related to abuse, finance, neglect or some setbacks in life. Hence they needed special care; something more than sponsorship.
However, later we started observing the children we had identified as potential drop outs from our literacy programme. [The literacy programme at that time was level 1, 2, 3; Level 1/ beginners level was abc, 123.] Most of these children, including those who already dropped, were at the beginner’s level. They ranged between the ages of 12 and 14 years but they were now learning a b c, 1 2 3.
We also observed that they will never move on to level two (2). They were going to be at the same level no matter how many years they were attending the centre. We started reading about learning disabilities,specific learning difficulties in reading, mathematics, concentration, attention etc. and realized this was the answer to our puzzle. The problem was a case of learning difficulty combined with other emotional and psychological problems; the common factor being learning difficulty. After compiling these facts, CAS didn’t address the issue because it required so much specialised attention and the organisation didn’t have room to do more than it was already doing.
I on the other hand was very interested in doing something about my findings. I had been working with the organisation for six (6) years and took the opportunity to move on and do something else. I along ventured out with some colleagues and the Special Attention Project (SAP) was birthed. It took some years to really establish it though.