Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

A special needs child receives one on one attention from Karen Romero.

Helping Disabled Kids with Attention and Education

One positive thing about living on Roatan is that the island community solves its own problems. Community members identify the problems, find a strategy to handle them and locate resources to fund them. The government isn’t here to decide, fund and organize and it is up to the local citizens to set up special education programs for disabled children.The communities are also taxed less, and create opportunity for locals to volunteer and find fulfillment through meaningful work and service.

The Honduran government doesn’t do it, and perhaps it’s better that way. Like many communities in the US and Europe did in the XIX century and first half of XX century, analyzing their own needs and providing their own solutions, Roatan’s parents of disabled children are doing just the same.

One of such non-profit grass roots organizations is CATTLEYA with a school component called CEDICA – “Centro Educativo de Desarrollo Inclusivo Cattley” (Educational Center for Inclusive Development) where five days a week children from all over the island come to receive specialized attention.

The school was launched as a support group for mothers on the island in 2012. The parents of disabled children and children with special needs weren’t getting help from local schools and some even moved to US in order to provide specialize care for their children.

“They wanted a program that would meet their needs and treat them with respect,” says Connie Silvestri whose son Loren, 36, suffers from Down Syndrome.

that special needs children need regular help they can count on

It started with a part time teacher and two volunteers and it grew to where 20 children with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Autism and severe learning disabilities are being helped.“It’s a very challenging work of love,”says Silvestri, “As my son transitioned into adulthood we still face other challenges. Currently seven corporate sponsors, Rotary Club and Roatan Fishing Tournament help with financing day-to-day operations of CEDICA.

The CEDICA building is located in the Jackson Memorial Library in French Harbour. Two full time teachers, an intern, and a director run the day-to-day operations. Karen Romero is a schoolteacher doing the one-on-one teaching sessions and Mahely Gardado is a Honduran teacher working with the special needs kids. “In several years we’d like to be big enough to serve the entire island,” says Justin Romero, CEDICA Executive Director, who joined the organization in January 2018 from US.

Teacher Mahely Guardado with a group of older students study in a group session.

The sometime overlooked potential in many of the children is limitless. They can study, learn, be a part of community find a vocation and start a family. “A crucial part is to fallow up with consistency,” says Silvestri, emphasizing that special needs children need regular help they can count on. Sporadic teaching sessions just don’t help. According to Silvestri a government census team visited Roatan and registered 112 people with disability. Out of that 25 were children. With the total population of the island being about 100,000 people this is statistically quite low.

Still many island children with mental and physical challenges just don’t get treatment at all. They are left out from educational opportunities, recreation and support. They are hidden out of site and perceived as shameful and viewed as a liability. Thanks to efforts like that of CEDICA that is changing.

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