‘It’s intriguing to see how children with additional needs move from struggles to success’
Tola Makinde is the Founder, Mo-Rainbow Foundation in Lagos. The former banker whose foundation is charity based turned her pain into passion after having a child with Down syndrome. She started her foundation since 2014 and enjoys her work. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, she talked about her work and other issues.
Why your interest in people with Down Syndrome?
I had been exposed to a child with the same condition about seven years before I had my daughter.
Therapy began for my daughter weeks after she was born and soon after, we had to get medical help and enough exposure on how to care for her. When we returned home, I discovered not many people were ready to embrace my daughter’s condition. Soon after I met a child that needed intervention and the passion to educate and support parents like me began to grow.
The only treatment for Down Syndrome is therapy but people are being deceived subjecting their child to all forms of trauma and allowing myths and old wives tale to take over their minds.
In 2014, I started home visitation to families that were ready to receive me and I educated and showed them ways they could support their children at home.
Before now what were you doing?
I had worked in one of the biggest banks in Nigeria (United Bank For Africa PLC) for 11years and I resigned in 2011 after exhausting my maternity leave. I went fully into business but In between I had to neglect my business to focus on the initial health issues my daughter had with the full knowledge that early intervention would be very impactful within the first three years of her life. I returned to business months after she was a bit stable in 2012.
What were your initial challenges when you started and how were you able to overcome them?
We had so many frequent visits to the hospital for oxygen She had a heart disease which is very common in children with Down syndrome. My friend in the United States of America helped me through the initial stage. I started engaging her in various oral motor, physical and occupational therapy. I did not let the scary reports I read about Down syndrome scare me. My husband and family were very supportive. I had to condition my mind that she would be fine with the right support. All these helped me to overcome all the challenges and kept me focused and busy even before she was finally diagnosed with a heart condition at six months old.
What is your foundation doing to enlighten the society?
We want our children’s voices to be heard and we sensitize our community on the need to integrate them into our society. They are part of our community and shouldn’t be treated as outcasts. We are on a rescue mission giving hope and support from birth onwards.
We continue on a daily basis to fight for this cause because we know that many families are hiding their children, still living in denial not knowing there is hope with early intervention. We have had two major awareness walks. In 2015, we walked round Festac Town, to spread the word about hope and help for children instead of house arrest, child abuse or lock up.
In 2016, we covered Amuwo Odofin low cost housing estate, Mile 2, which had about 800 flats and this time around we were able to reach out to every ethnic group and class. We had various print out in WAZOBIA and pidgin languages.
People in our society need to learn to embrace our children and create an enabling environment for them. They are achievers in their space and time if given the opportunity to try.
How do balance work and home-front?
My husband and children are very supportive and understanding. I get a lot of support from my parents too. I had earlier educated my other children about the condition so it makes it easier for me. I really must say that it’s been God all the way.
In the course of your work, what valuable lessons have you learnt and how have it impacted on your life?
I have learnt to fight for what I believe in so I don’t lose it to fear, love like never before because love has the capacity to turn things around in a family, community, society and nation. Getting knowledge is key and powerful and that makes me willing to unlearn, learn and relearn. Life does not prepare you for tests like you’re in school. Faith in God has helped me to move from known to unknown.
I have also learnt that my vision is my calling and I have to run with it trusting that God will go ahead at all times. He will not give me a burden that is too much for me to bear. I was so hooked on my business and I learnt to let go and let God, little did I know I had found purpose.
I have learnt most importantly to walk with God and seek Him for directions and inspiration. It’s intriguing to see how children with additional needs move from struggles to success and nothing is more humbling being a voice for the voiceless and a change agent. . The Rainbow in the name of the foundation was God given and it’s a way of seeing something good, something beautiful in an ugly or dead situation. Our children will grow from zero to hero if we remain focused and ready to support them
I have discovered love and giving in a new dimension and my life is not the same again. I will not stop talking until children living with Down syndrome are accepted, embraced, loved and given a chance at life. My husband, friends and family stood by me from the inception of Mo-Rainbow and yes the popular saying that for every vision, God makes provision, is true. My daughter has taught me the real meaning of patience. I believe that one day all our endeavours, sweat and prayers for them will translate to beautiful testimonies and achievements.
What is your advice to parents that have children with Down syndrome?
Embrace it, nurture and provide for the child like you will naturally do for your other children. Pay attention to your child’s additional needs. I know it’s hard for parents to cope sometimes especially with the cost of care and delayed milestones, but trust me, you need to see the face of beauty in your child, show love and give equal opportunity. Learn, relearn and unlearn especially outdated information and myths about your child’s condition.
Many parents give up on their child, see it like they are wasting their time and resources and sometimes wish the child away or dead. Its heart wrenching for me to see parents neglect their children, or fathers walk away from their homes, calling their wives names like (a witch); I wonder why they don’t think they could be wizards too.
If a parent doesn’t show any interest in giving their child a voice, no magic should be expected. My daughter lights up our world, life would have been boring without her. There is hope after a Down syndrome diagnosis and every child is a blessing.
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