Akpan is a toddler from Nigeria. His parents adore their little champ, even though he’s unable to call them “mummy” or “daddy.” They know he will speak someday, but when? They watch him struggle daily to mutter a sweet word. He can’t run to give his parents a hug. When will their child speak and walk? Who will help and what can we do to help him?

My experience as a Mandela Washington fellow in the U.S. these past three months has opened opportunities for collaboration and personal enlightenment and increased my resolve to ensure that individuals with unique needs in Nigeria are integrated into the society. This is why I started Eliakim Global Resources and Claudia’s Threshold Foundation to provide integration/inclusive services to help face the challenges of a boy like Akpan.

The case of Akpan is a growing concern among low-income families of children with unique needs in Nigeria. Families who have access to specialists or therapists are usually wealthy or have money saved. Most free medical clinics are overcrowded. In Nigeria good special-education schools are extremely expensive, and the government-run schools are crowded and do not provide adequate services for children in need.

The level of ignorance regarding children with unique needs in society is extremely high. They are viewed as a curse, and parents are often advised to kill them. Exorcisms are also performed daily via churches.

In response to this issue, I wanted to provide inclusive education in mainstream schools. There was strong opposition from teachers and parents, but we never gave up. As a result, we have various services that help integrate children with unique needs. Providing integration services through inclusive education is not the only and final solution. For lower-income families, we provide free weekend activities on a voluntary basis, but demand is high and resources are limited.

One solution is to teach parents how to provide these services and techniques. This has given birth to “The Unique Kit,” which has tools categorized in six different packs.

  • Sensory-processing tools
  • Hand-eye coordination tools
  • Self-help skills tools
  • Social skills tools
  • Learning tools
  • Communication tools

Parents are the best supporters of their children. Society needs to empower and enable them to help their children with unique needs. We want to equip parents with tools to help their children overcome challenges with various early intervention solutions.

I have further developed my skills and strategies to ensure a Nigeria devoid of stigmatization for people with intellectual and developmental challenges as a Mandela Washington Fellow at DBHIDS. My time here was wonderful, and the success of my future projects will always be attributed to the knowledge, skills, mentoring, and friendships I gained here.