The UN Secretary-General has urged the international community to focus on autism globally, ‘to address stigma, lack of awareness and inadequate support structures’. Globally many autistic children and adults are living difficult lives, denied education, support and acceptance, and often prevented from participating in family and community life. In resource-poor settings such as Sierra Leone, the lack of opportunities for support and education, accompanied bythe profound and isolating stigma that can accompany disability, can put individuals and families in intolerable and often dangerous situations.
We are raising funds to promote awareness about autism in Sierra Leone this April and to encourage families to come forward for support and advice. We know from feedback and stories from parents and carers (eg Sierra Express Media, 2014; Pan-African Experiences of Autism Conference, Dec 2017; Browne-Penn School October 2017) that parents can be put under family and community pressure to stop feeding their children, or to hide them away and to pursue harmful alternative ‘treatments’ that can be abusive and life-threatening. The Sierra Leone Autistic Society recently held a community awareness session in a rural area and were told by a mother that they were ‘too late’ as she had returned her autistic child ‘to the bush’ the previous week (ie she had abandoned her child in the forest areas). SLAS research in the community indicates that autistic children in the Sierra Leone context are at extreme risk of witchcraft accusations and subsequent harmful treatment.
All research elsewhere shows that awareness-raising at both the macro and micro level increases understanding and improves lives. Funds will pay for the following:
- Airtime on the radio for the specially recorded song 'Kick Stigma Out of Autism';
- Production of banners and leaflets to promote awareness and to share SLAS contact details;
- Football matches across the country, in all districts, to bring communities together and to talk with them about autism. Funds will pay for PA system, refreshments and autism-themed T-shirts for the teams;
- School assemblies, to be delivered by a local network of volunteers and partner organisations. Transportation and refreshments for volunteers is required for this work to take place.
We expect there to be in excess of 70,000 autistic people in Sierra Leone. Everyone will know someone with autism in their community. Please consider supporting these awareness-raising activities and enable autistic people to live lives free of stigma and violence and in which the right to a family, a community and to education are secured.