I want you to meet Wilmel. He lives in the Dominican Republic, in a community where Food for the Hungry (FH) works. And like most little boys his age, Wilmel is a ball of energy and contagious joy. His bright smile changes into intent concentration when he focuses on a task. He has a vibrant personality, and he’s described as showing an eagerness and excitement to learn.
However, Wilmel is also vulnerable. Wilmel lives with physical disabilities that limit his ability to perform actions as simple as using eating utensils to feed himself. Children with disabilities are often victims of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect. So when we think about ending poverty, we have to consider how those will disabilities remain stuck in poverty because of their physical, mental, or intellectual abilities. And how their stories are often overlooked or forgotten.
FH never views the vulnerable according to what they lack. Instead, we know that everyone has gifts and something to give. We look for the number of ways that the vulnerable, including children and adults with disabilities, already contribute to their families and communities. We affirm their human dignity. And we help them overcome challenges. Many people families struggle to access the knowledge, services, and resources that help children grow up healthy and capable. How can we change that?
How FH Is Helping Children with Disabilities in the Dominican Republic
Wilmel’s family knows FH, and his mother is even a mother leader in the community. Bethany, a registered nurse and intern at FH/Dominican Republic, told me that knowing and working alongside Wilmel and his family is a privilege. And even though Wilmel has physical disabilities, his family has ordinary needs and dreams. Wilmel’s mother works hard for her children to have healthy diets and good nutrition. She makes sure that her family uses safe hygiene practices. But in addition to that, their families faces extra challenges.
A new initiative of FH/Dominican Republic wants to help fix that. It’s called the “12:13 Project.” The mission of the project based on Hebrews 12:13 is to support children with disabilities and their families. Children with disabilities frequently struggle to access to education and medical care. Or their parents don’t know how to best care for a child with physical limitations. The 12:13 Projects is helping change that.
First, FH staff identify children struggling to walk, attend school, or access health care. Then FH connects their families to local health resources. The 12:13 Project helps bridge the gap that can exist between people in poverty and much-needed resources. Now, after less than a year, FH has helped nine children with disabilities in the Dominican Republic get important care.
Empowering Parents to Care for their Children
In order to help children with disabilities, an essential part of the 12:13 Project is educating and empowering caregivers. It’s important for parents to learn basic stretches and therapy techniques. Simple exercises can help children gain more mobility, prevent stiff or contracted muscles, and improved blood circulation. But learning those techniques also enable caregivers to understand their children’s needs. Along the way, mothers and fathers gain confidence and affirmation in their ability to be good parents.
For Wilmel, play-based activities like squeezing playdough and coloring with large crayons will help him regain use of his fingers and hands. Such simple exercises allow children with disabilities to hold objects and utensils and eventually be able to eat independently.
Wilmel with his mother.
And the 12:13 Project has other goals too. FH staff want to identify and address all health needs, educate families and communities, and improve the infrastructure of the homes inhabited by children with disabilities. For a child like Wilmel, gaining the ability to eat on his own without help from his mother is a small change. But Bethany, the registered nurse intern, says that she “loves seeing progress, no matter how small” because she and FH staff celebrate the small victories.
These are small signs of hope. But it’s thrilling to see parents become better equipped to care for their children. And it’s exciting to see the most vulnerable children included in a holistic vision of community transformation.
Will you make a difference in the life of a vulnerable child today? Join Food for the Hungry’s work ending poverty through child sponsorship!