In Morocco, it is estimated that 850 children are born every year with Down syndrome but the stigma attached to disability leaves parents experiencing worry and guilt and children socially excluded.
Children with disabilities in Morocco have limited access to education, healthcare, vocational training and later, jobs. Their parents lack the social, institutional and financial support needed to provide their child with the best care and education.
Research shows that a good foundation in the early years – including good nutrition and health, consistent care and encouragement – can have a powerful impact on a child’s life. This is significantly more important for children born with Down syndrome.
In 2014, a UN committee called for immediate measures to ensure that children with disabilities in Morocco have access to health care including early detection and intervention programmes. There is a need to train and assign specialised teachers and professionals in integrated classes providing individual support and attention to children with disabilities.
Association Anais was established in 1991 by a group of parents of children with Down syndrome to fill a gap in integrated services. Anais follows its beneficiaries from birth to adulthood through age appropriate activities aimed at helping the children achieve their maximum potential. It also helps medical staff to prepare expectant parents for the arrival of a child with special needs.
Anais has four programmes in three different locations across Casablanca. Its Early Childhood Development centre works with parents to overcome stigma and develop a nurturing relationship with the child in collaboration with local doctors and counsellors. A primary school programme is offered in a mainstream public school where children with Down syndrome can learn literacy and numeracy skills and interact with other children, helping them integrate better into society as adults.
Anais’s vocational skills training is aimed at teenagers up to the age of 18, teaching them the skills needed to enter the workforce including cookery, laundry and gardening. After the training, they are linked with private sector companies who provide internships. Finally, an employability programme allows Anais’s beneficiaries to use their vocational skills to do paid work at Anais centres before finding work in the private sector.
Photo: Lina Laraki