Acarinhar (Portuguese for ‘to cherish’), was founded in 2007 by Dr Teresa Mascarenhas with the dream of achieving a society that does not segregate children with CP, and that supports families with children with CP or other disabilities.
This organisation was the first in its kind in Cabo Verde.
According to census data, there are 1500 children with CP living across the archipelago nation of Cabo Verde, off the northwest coast of Africa.
Incredibly, prior to Acarinhar’s work, it was not common to see children with CP outside of their homes due to the stigmatization of disability. This isolation and parental shame compounded socio-economic factors.
“Their poverty increases the loneliness that the majority lives, enclosed in four walls, in deprivation of a basic living space, social interaction and access to a set of basic rights such as health, food, education, culture and sport. This treatment was – and is – inhumane. Confronted with this reality, there was something to be done.” – Dr Teresa Mascarenhas
Acarinhar’s goal is to break the silence on CP in Cabo Verde.
They’re making this happen by fostering human rights, improving services such as education and rehabilitation, and breaking down the barriers to social integration for children with CP.
Ultimately, their vision is to establish a society where children with CP have access to equal rights and opportunities.
Shattering the silence
In order to achieve such an ambitious vision, Acarinhar’s – and in turn Dr Teresa Mascarenhas’ – first two priorities were to identify the children with CP that needed the most assistance and to raise awareness of the problems facing them, and their families.
Dr Mascarenhas began drawing attention to their plight through meetings with relevant organisations and agencies, as well as engaging the media.
In 2007, Acarinhar’s first year of operation, Dr Mascarenhas’ work earned her the National Award of Human Rights, along with the Social Merit Award by the Municipal Authority of Praia. This national recognition gave the Association wider recognition, enabling it to expand.
In fact, the work Acarinhar has undertaken to break the silence of CP in Cabo Verde lead the Prime Minister to proclaim 2014 the “Year of the Children with Cerebral Palsy” and a Ministry of Social Inclusion has been established.
Hands on help
While much outstanding work is done in the public arena raising awareness, Acarinhar’s facility, located in the Cabo Verde capital of Praia, meets the education and rehabilitation needs of children with CP.
This service started with 20 children, two of whom made such remarkable progress they gained national attention.
“We prioritise children that have not enrolled in the school system and that come from low-income families, especially those that are mono-parental and mother-only, and that don’t receive sufficient funds from the government.” – Dr Teresa Mascarenhas
Now, on a daily basis, Acarinhar’s multi-disciplinary team work with 60 children undertaking a number of rehabilitation interventions and educational activities. These include reading, writing, pedagogic stimulation, information technology, arts, music and sports. Where possible, students are integrated in mainstream schooling.
The organisation also provides assistive devices, with more than 150 wheelchairs distributed to children with CP to date.
As well as providing education and therapy, Acarinhar hold events to promote the social integration of children with CP.
Yearly summer camps, participation in Mardi Gras, as well as arts and sporting events all aim to benefit participants in a number of ways as well as promoting awareness of CP.
The organisation also undertakes the education and support of caregivers in areas such as home assistance and income generation to ensure the best possible living standards for children with CP. Over the years, Acarinhar has helped more than 225 families in this way.
To increase access and understanding of fundamental laws and human rights information, Acarinhar facilitated adaptations of the following important manuscripts:
- The Constitution of the Cabo Verde
- The Human Rights Convention of UN, called “Convenção na Palma da Mão”
- The adaptation of the Children Rights (Cidadãoo Pikinoti) produced by the National Commission to the Human Rights and Citizenship of Cabo Verde
- The Book “Golden Butterfly” that tells the story of children with Children Palsy in a more accessible way.
These transcriptions were made in audio, braille, augmented characters and sign language.
Of course, to be successful in their mission, Acarinhar has required the support of numerous other organisations and agencies.
They are grateful for the support they receive from the Ministry of Family and Social Inclusion of Cabo Verde, Airports and Air Security of Cabo Verde (ASA), Unitel, Agência Caboverdiana de Imagens (ACI), Empresa de Marketing e Eventos (EME), along with many more sponsors and partners, such as Artemedia, Grow Special and Take C’Air Crew Volunteers.
“Although Acarinhar has made significant breakthroughs in Cabo Verde, as it sparked this revolution in this country, there is still much to do. Public education and public health are not still widely available to these children and not all families in Cabo Verde are aware of the help they can get,” – Dr Teresa Mascarenhas
Their future agenda includes:
- promote more domestic childcare assistance
- rehabilitation of the public health services to improve the quality of life and access to health by the children with CP
- expand the activity of the organisation to other islands of Cabo Verde.
These are admirable goals and while they still have much to do, Acarinhar has undeniably broken the silence of CP in Cabo Verde.