In Southern Ghana, lack of understanding and acceptance of those born with disabilities creates barriers to success for individuals and families of individuals who are disabled. They are treated differently from a young age, and their families often suffer social consequences as a result of the stigma that is cast upon them.
“At the age of eight years old, I saw my cousin crawling on his hands and knees because my family was not able to afford a wheelchair and a walker. I noticed even at a young age that kids with any type of disabilities were not allowed to play with us,” said Susan Badu, founder of Akua Career Academy. “Parents will hide their kids at home because of the stigma that families face. Many marriages have ended due to having a child with disabilities. Sadly, women are always the ones who are blamed for the child being disabled.”
Watching the differently-abled suffer mistreatment and lack of assistance deeply affected Badu. One simple but poignant moment in particular stands out in her mind as the turning point at which she realized she needed to change the stigma and make a positive difference.
“In 2011, I gave an individual with a disability a hug. This small gesture of love made such an impact in his life that he started to cry. His mother tearfully reported that since birth, her family and the community had ostracized them; he was born with cancer. As my own tears started to flow, I realized that I need to make a difference on a larger scale,” Badu said. “I want to provide education to the Ghanaian community and to also provide an opportunity to learn hands-on training skills for them to become gainfully employed.”
Thus, the seed was planted for Akua Career Academy, a school that brings in skilled workers to help students develop technical and trade skills, such as building, plumbing, electrical, food service, auto mechanic, farming, cosmetology and computer skills, and more. The goal is to help students become self-sufficient and eventually join the workforce.
The academy was officially founded in March 2020 and joined the HSI family in April. It will welcome students ages eight to 25 for a daytime program and boarding. The school will be built to accommodate students with various physical and mental handicaps. To generate income to the school, there will be an onsite supermarket and restaurant. The students who are in the building trade program will build an apartment during their training to house students upon graduation, and to rent to the community.
“It is my life dream and prayer that I will be able to build a school to provide educational opportunities to individuals with psychological, physical and learning disabilities, and other related medical conditions, so they can live their lives to the fullest,” Badu said.
She plans to collaborate with local religious organizations and businesses in Ghana to provide internship opportunities and employment. She said that she also hopes to expand networking opportunities with other non-profit organizations in the United States in order to raise awareness and funding to grow Akua Career Academy.
Currently, the greatest challenge the academy faces is lack of funding. With more financial resources from donors and partners, Badu’s school can not only make a substantial difference in the lives of those born with disabilities and their loved ones, but it can also erase a negative stigma that impacts the community as a whole.
“I believe that we are all created for a purpose in this life. I know that my purpose is to give acceptance and love to the forgotten,” Badu said.