Sporting a floral dress, glimmering earrings and a pair of silver strappy sandals, nine-year-old Mèhèza* is like any girl her age who dreams of life’s endless possibilities. But a rare genetic condition that affects the bones of her lower jaw could stand in her way if people in her community in Togo shun her.
“I want to be a seamstress,” says Mèhèza looking for the complicit gaze of her SOS mother Comfort. “Why should I hide away?” she blurts out.
Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable of all Togo’s population. They face not only poverty, but also social isolation and discrimination. They can feel invisible.
The SOS Children’s Villages team in Kara, a city in northern Togo, works to make children with disabilities visible in society and makes sure children's rights are respected.
Nadège Kao, a SOS social worker in Kara, says in Togo, as in several other West African countries, children with disabilities are often seen as “a curse from God” and can be victims of infanticide and sacrificial killings.
“As a result of threats, parents often keep their children at home, instead of sending them to school and letting the children integrate in society,” she adds.
That’s why it is so important to make sure that children with disabilities receive an inclusive education and are part of the community so that everyone can thrive and survive, explains Ms Kao. SOS helps children in need to give them every opportunity for success.
Boost self-esteem of children with disabilties
Mèhèza and her two younger twin brothers live with their SOS mother Comfort in the SOS Children’s Village in Kara. Their mother died giving birth to the twins and their disabled father was not able to care for them.
Mèhèza’s condition is known as cherubism. In some people, it is so mild that it may not be noticeable, while other cases, such as Mèhèza’s, are severe enough to cause problems with vision, breathing, speech and swallowing. Doctors say her enlarged jaw should stabilize during puberty and that many affected adults have a normal facial appearance.
Still, Mèhèza struggles to keep up with the rhythm at school and often feels tired and demotivated. But thanks to a multi-talented team of social workers and specialized educators, she finds the power to overcome these frustrations.
To boost the self-esteem of the 14 children with disabilities at SOS Children’s Village Kara, the staff has set up a solidarity network within the village and local school, says Ms Kao, the social worker.
“We aim to make everyone understand that disabilities are not contagious and that interaction and play are actually the best medicine one could give to support her,” she says.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the child.
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