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| FAMILIES |
By Bavina Sookdeo
ANYONE WHO has the joy of meeting Helen Humphrey
would know that she is a true advocate for those who
are differently-abled. From the age of 21, she often visited
the Lady Hochoy Home, spreading whatever cheer that
she could. She said that she always had a "soft spot for
In September of 1985, Humphrey herself was blessed
with a "special child". Her granddaughter Rebecca Fer-
reira, born to Joanna (Humphrey's daughter) and Barry
Ferreira, was born with Down syndrome. Humphrey says
about Rebecca's birth: "She looked straight into our eyes
as if to say 'Love me' . . . I cannot express the way Re-
becca looked at us when she was born, but it is some-
thing I will always remember." The way she looked into
their eyes even inspired her uncle, Nigel Ferreira, to write
a song about her --- "So beautiful, So lovely".
On her arrival, a nurse told Humphrey that her grandchild
was a "mongoloid". "I didn't know what she meant," she
said, "but the doctor then explained to us that she had
Down syndrome." Driven by their deep and immediate
love for the child they became intent on learning every-
thing they could about the syndrome.
According to the Web site http://www.nlm.nih.gov/med-
lineplus/downsyndrome.html "Down syndrome is a con-
dition in which a person is born with an extra copy of
chromosome 21. People with Down syndrome can have
physical problems, as well as intellectual disabilities.
Every person born with Down syndrome is different. Peo-
ple with the syndrome may also have other health prob-
lems. They may be born with heart disease. They may
have dementia. They may have hearing problems and
problems with the intestines, eyes, thyroid, and skeleton."
Humphrey has worked tirelessly conscious of the fact
that many people born with Down syndrome, unlike Re-
becca, may have no one to care for them. Today, at the
age of 76, Humphrey is still passionate and concerned
about persons with disabilities.
Becky, as Rebecca is fondly called, was also born with
two holes in her heart and a faulty valve. Her first surgery
was done at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in the US,
when she was just nine months old. At this stage,
Humphrey formed the Special Child Emergency Fund to
assist other special-needs babies who had to go abroad
for surgery. Helped tremendously by Dr David Bratt and
the Rotary Clubs, local artistes and corporate citizens, the
Special Child Emergency Fund enabled several babies to
get surgeries done. At the age of two, Rebecca had her
second surgery at the Long Island Children's Hospital.
When Rebecca was three years old, her grandmother,
along with friends Jillian Silmon and Cheryl Samuel,
started "Something Special" a school that initially catered
for children with special needs. The school was officially
opened by Dr Emmanuel Hosein. They began with only
five children and then the numbers grew when they
started taking in what society deems "normal" children.
In 1987, Humphrey, Martin De Gannes and Lydia Pierre
(who was previously involved with the Lady Hochoy Home)
formed the National Association of Down Syndrome
(NADS) which is still in existence today. After about 14
years, Something Special decided to join hands with Jacqui
Leotaud and her Immortelle Children's Centre for Special
Education because both schools had similar programmes.
"Carlos John helped us to get the property for Im-
mortelle," Humphrey said, "and we got a great deal of
support from then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, and
Kamla Persad Bissessar who was Minister of Education
at the time. In addition, Dr Tim Gopeesingh has been very
supportive." Today, Immortelle, too, is still in existence and
has over 55 students.
"I hope that with the help of organisations such as the
Down Syndrome Family Network (formed here in 2012),
our children can get jobs and become as independent as
possible." Humphrey said she hopes companies can meet
with the children and see what fields they can fit into. "I
go abroad and see so many people with Down syndrome
working at many well known companies," she said. "It is
important for us to include them as a part of society."
To mothers with children of Down syndrome, Humphrey
advised that they contact the Down Syndrome Family
Network. "They are putting things in place and I have a
lot of hope," she said. "Before we had nowhere to turn
and that's why I thank God for the nuns at the Lady Ho-
choy Home. They are always so good with us and the
children. Nowadays though, we have several networks
and I think, too, that the attitude of doctors has changed.
Help is finally here!" she smiled.
Helen Humphrey, wife of former UNC Minister, John
Humphrey, also advised parents to "explain things to
their children. Explain to them that no one should touch
them inappropriately, warn them and make them aware
of the dangers out there." To the siblings of those with
Down syndrome, Humphrey encourages them to show a
lot of love and include them in activities.
"When Becky was born, she gave off so much love that
all we wanted to do was learn as much as possible about
Down syndrome. Having a child with Down syndrome
teaches you to be humble and helps you to appreciate
the little things in life," the proud grandmother said.
Humphrey said that families should not hide away their
special children but should instead encourage and help
them to be all that they can be. Rebecca has been a mas-
cot at the Special Olympics since the age of three and
has been playing basketball since the age of seven. She
has recently received an award by the Special Olympics
Committee for her consistency. Her grandmother sent
out a message to all families with "special children". She
said, "Remember that God only chooses special people
to have such special children."
"When you focus on someone's disability you'll overlook
their abilities, beauty and uniqueness. Once you learn to
accept and love them for who they are, you
subconsciously learn to love yourself unconditionally.
---Yvonne Pierre, The Day My Soul Cried: A Memoir
Jenny Battoo (who sews costumes for the special
children), Rebecca and Helen Humphrey
Helen and John Humphrey
Helen and John Humphrey
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