Paula’s story – “Being a volunteer at HRBC made me very happy…”

Our partner, HRBC, aims to improve the quality of life of children with disabilities and their families, ensuring these children fulfil their full potential. Paula is a volunteer at HRBC. In this blog, she tells us her story, how HRBC’s support and volunteering at HRBC has helped her and what are some of the main challenges for HRBC and for social and educational inclusion in Colombia.  

Paula’s story

Paula and her children

Paula and her children

I was married at the age of 20 to a wonderful man, who gave me a loving and secure home. Then came the birth of my children, Luis, now 14, and Paula Andrea, who is five and a half years old.

Luis was diagnosed with autism when he was born. After doing the rounds of the medical services and different neurologists, who assured us he would never be able to walk and would be confined to a bed, I struggled on a daily basis and came to realise that it’s love, perseverance and patience which have enabled my son to be able to function normally today and be a great joy to us all at home.

Just over five years ago, my husband died, when my daughter was only 6 months old, leaving me alone with my children, but the strength, the love and the desire to keep things going have enabled me to keep on discovering new paths through life.

The experience of being a mother to my darling little angel, Luis, has been wonderful, I have learned a lot from him.

At times it has been very difficult, not because of him, but because of society, which sees any kind of limitation or disability as a problem, or as though it was a contagious illness. You can see the rejection and this is a shame, as they also feel it and to see this as a mother is very hard.

I’ve never been able to get used to this, or to other things, such as seeing my son have convulsions or his mind wandering and the look in his eyes as if he is escaping to a world where he is happier. Although he doesn’t look autistic, he really is, but when he is with someone who doesn’t try to hold him back, he gives to the best of his ability.

HRBC’s support

4 years ago I got to know HRBC through a teacher at my son’s school. I was offered work as a volunteer there, as I went to my son’s classes on a regular basis and give him and other children with disabilities support, and my group management skills are good.

The experience of being a volunteer at HRBC made me very happy, as I was going through a very difficult time. My husband had died in an accident and this made things complicated. I didn’t work because for my disabled son, I had become his shadow.

The good thing about being at HRBC is that I have learned a lot about disability and have also had a lot of support. I was a mother who didn’t go out much, staying at home or at school. I only went out when I had to see my son’s doctor and I thank HRBC for giving me the chance to take part in academic discussions and meet some marvellous people, who have taught me a lot. This makes me very happy as I am learning more every day and can share all I’ve learned with the children at the CCV (Centro de Competencia Para la Vida, Centre for Life Skills), where I work as a volunteer.

I can now say it’s wonderful to know how many people are constantly fighting for equality for disabled boys and girls, for their rights and for equality for all children in general.

I am head of the HRBC Foundation CCV in the Alfonso López neighbourhood, 3 blocks away from the El Jarillón dyke on the River Cauca. El Jarillón is a place where families build their shacks on the river bank, spreading into the green areas to build houses out of plastic or wood to have somewhere to live. The problems most apparent in Alfonso López are drug related violence, drug-taking, theft, poverty and disability.

Photos of the dyke on the River Cauca – Area 7 of the Cali community

Challenges facing HRBC

The challenge of the HRBC Foundation in the Skills Centres for the inclusion of children is to give families support, so that they can claim their rights on an everyday basis, not just regarding inclusion at school, but also to give them their place in the community, to which they also belong.

Another challenge is to improve the relationship between the children and their parents, because sometimes, parents are very aggressive due to their constant stress caused by lack of money and above all their children’s disability, which requires care and medication. This can make parents aggressive sometimes and take things out on their children, so there are workshops at the Foundation to help them improve this.

Another challenge we had in 2012 was the inclusion of children who didn’t attend school, children who are behind the level they should be at for their age or needing to repeat a year and children with very severe learning difficulties. To improve these situations, HRBC has set workshops with schools and partner educational institutions, allotting us space at the Skills Centres for extra-curricular days. We offer training for teachers and continuous assessment. This way the community as a whole has made the schools more open to the community, enabling parents to express their concerns and teach the teaching staff how to handle their children in the classroom, given that we as parents have a great deal of knowledge about our disabled children and can show the teachers to work with them in the classroom.

Our schools are true community schools and parents, teachers, managers and the children all form a great team in achieving improved social and educational inclusion.

With your help, COTA can continue to support HRBC in this vital work. You can make a donation here.

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