Overseas-based Guyanese donate educational aids, playground equipment to NA Special Needs School

Some 50 overseas-based Guyanese on Tuesday donated over $1.5M in educational aids and playground equipment to help the differently-abled students of the New Amsterdam Special Needs School.

A total of $1,520,000 (US$7,600) was donated to the project to “give children at the New Amsterdam Special Needs School somewhere to laugh, smile and more importantly, play” through the Giving Abundantly in Life (GAIL) Foundation.

The school is the only one of its kind in Region Six that caters for children with learning disabilities and those who are differently-abled. Eleven teachers assisted by three ancillary staffers and three volunteers are responsible for the 75 full time students in addition to part time students.

Children making full use of the playground equipment donated by the GAIL Foundation to the New Amsterdam Special Needs School in Berbice
Children making full use of the playground equipment donated by the GAIL Foundation to the New Amsterdam Special Needs School in Berbice

Established in 1986 as the Lions School for Handicapped Children, the school was relocated, renamed the New Amsterdam Special Needs School and handed over to the Region 6 Department of Education in 1994.

The rationale for the school’s establishment was to offer an opportunity to develop the social and vocational skills of persons with disabilities. To this end, the school’s administration has sought to provide a comfortable and friendly learning environment where the students can excel.

Unfortunately, lack of resources has hindered the school from adequately fulfilling its mandate.

Florida-based attorney Gail Seeram, who is the founder of GAIL, toured the school in 2011 with the intention of rehabilitating its dilapidated playground equipment. However, realising the school’s overwhelming need for learning aids and materials to help the children understand what is being taught to them, she decided to establish a therapy room as well. “I came to see the playground and took a tour of the building. When I went into one of the classrooms, I saw a table that had some books and I was told that this was the library.

I felt to myself that this was not acceptable,” Seeram remarked during the ribbon cutting ceremony on Tues-day. “This is the Special Needs School and these children are special. They can do anything they want…but we have to equip them with the tools and they need more tools to learn,” she added.

The newly-commissioned therapy room boasts two wall-to-wall book cases with books and educational aids, a projector, a laptop and a desktop computer, a pull down screen, several Sign Language Learning DVDs, and lots of toys. Meanwhile, the playground was equipped with several swings, sew-saws, and slides. “I just feel that for a school or any children’s facility, there has to be a playground. That’s what children do, they play,” Seeram said, adding that “there should not be a school or children institution here in Guyana without a playground.”

During the ribbon cutting ceremony and the blessing of the therapy room and playground, students had a sense of appreciation for those Guyanese who have left Guyana but still remember the land of their birth and want to contribute to its development. Students were urged to make full use of the equipment and to protect it from those who may wish to vandalise it. “We are partnering with donors, but we are also partnering with you Guyanese,” stated Seeram as she explained the importance of locals coming on board and adopting the project as their own and showing a vested interest in its sustainability. “I have promised accountability. I have promised security. I have promised maintenance… the local Guyanese here need to work with us in maintaining and securing these donations because that will encourage more people to give. I don’t want to come back a year from now and hear the equipment has been vandalised,” she said.

Yvonne Hinds, wife of Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, joined the GAIL Foundation during the ribbon cutting ceremony and applauded Seeram for helping the school. In her remarks, Hinds described Seeram as “a woman who shares her God-given gifts, and her resources with the less fortunate of the world”. Revealing that Seeram does similar humanitarian work in Haiti with her church, Hinds implored the beneficiaries of the donation to “take good care of these facilities so that donors can be heartened by the benefits of their contributions. The GAIL Foundation is a reminder that Guyanese living abroad are willing to do charitable projects in Guyana.”

Representatives of the Regional Administration and Department of Education of Region Six and the New Amsterdam Lions Club were all presented at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Ralph Seeram, one of the donors of the equipment who was present at the ceremony, took the opportunity to elicit commitments from the authorities present to maintain the school’s compound. “I don’t want to come back and see grass high like the fence-covering the playground, as was evident two weeks ago,” he declared.

“It [the playground] is of no use to these children if the grass is high. I want a commitment from the regional administration or whoever for the grass to be slashed every two weeks, or it will be a waste of all this money [invested] if it’s not going to be maintained,” he added.

The administration of the New Amsterdam Special Needs School joined with the students and parents of the school to collectively thank the GAIL Foundation for its help and assured the donors that the equipment would be used for its intended purpose.

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