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Kumesine: Nigerians not well informed on how to handle people living with autism

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Beauty

We can’t downplay the role of advocates who care for special needs kids in society, especially ours where these “Angels” are often stigmatised based on the socio-cultural perception of kids living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Luckily, women like Beauty Kumesine are changing that narrative with their voice, and platform.

With over 12 years of experience working with these special children who have developmental difficulties, Beauty has specialised her abilities and knowledge in this area and spent two years understanding people living with ASD. The outspoken advocate is also the founding Executive Director of Blazing Heart Autism Center (BHAC), an organisation providing quality therapy for autistic children, as well as support for their families. She has organised annual walks, roadshows, free breakfast dialogues, seminars and workshops for this cause and has spoken on different corporate platforms on autism, inclusion, advocacy and the way forward for individuals with ASD.

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Through her effort, several schools in Rivers State and its environs have set up Special Needs Units to provide inclusive educational settings for children with ASD and other additional needs. Kumesine sits on different directors and advisory boards and does her bit in capacity building for her community and for her, every child counts and there is hope and help for every child. She consults for hospitals and schools on special needs and how to handle special needs cases. She has archived many certifications and recognitions locally and internationally with recent awards by Leading Ladies Africa as one of Nigeria’s 100 most Inspiring Women and one of Nigeria’s 50 most Inspiring. The human Anatomy graduate from the University of Port Harcourt, with an education degree from National Teachers’ Institute, Kaduna, Nigeria, and a proud LEAP AFRICA fellow, shares her inspiring journey in this interview.

Childhood Influence
GROWING up for me was fun. I remember vividly sharing my stuff and time with a lot of children at different times; they did not have what to eat, didn’t wear the kind of clothes I wore or even have what I had then. I would take my stuff and give it to them. When they came to my neighborhood, I’d take them to my mum and introduce them as my friends (I really didn’t know them) and she’d feed them for me and we’d play for long hours before they’d go back home.

My early childhood prepared me to help people, but I was too young to realise what I was doing. Looking back, I’m glad I had the kind of upbringing I had. Thanks to my lovely parents and brothers.

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Inspiration Behind BHAC
After my university education, I met a friend who introduced me to Special Needs. I didn’t know that I’d become immersed deeply in this, but I am grateful to be here and contribute my quota to humanity.

BHAC was born out of passion; passion has led to commitment and consistency. It is my honest prayer that somehow, someday, I see the children to who I cater make visible positive progress and live an independent life.

Spending Two Years To Learn How To Deal With People With ASD
Learning is a part of life; you grow every day. The first two years of my Special Needs journey, I spent it unlearning what I initially knew about persons with special needs, changing my personal narrative and understanding about special needs and relearning the new for me. I am still learning as I see new things and have new experiences with the children I cater to.

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About PortharcourtWalk4Autism Initiative
PortHarcourtwalkfor4Autism is a unique roadshow initiative that was born out of the very peculiar need of the region I reside. The awareness level of ASD is low and hence understanding and acceptance is almost zero when BHAC started. I saw myself explaining to people daily and personally advocating every day and everywhere I went.

I need us to reach a larger audience and so, we started the roadshow PortHarcourtwalk4Autism and as the name says, we want Port Harcourt to hear about ASD, understand it and that way, our children and families who have individuals with ASD will be accepted in the society without discrimination and stigmatization.

12 Years Of Running BHAC
The journey has been challenging, but extremely rewarding. It gives me the joy to see that the children we serve at BHAC thrive and make progress no matter how minute that progress is.

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Challenges Of My Work
Like in every sphere of human existence, challenges faced by us at work range from human capacity as we have struggled in the past creating a great and committed workforce. We have and are also facing the challenges of funding and expectations from the families we serve.

Other Projects  
We create awareness in the urban and rural areas, constant capacity building for our team members, research and daily interventions for individuals with ASD.

Three Women Who Inspire You To Be Better And Why
My Mother Mrs. Florence Anwuri- I cannot over emphasis this, because my mother is a role model to me, and she inspires me to be better every day. I thank her for all she has been and is to me.

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Mrs. Dotun Akande- She is honest, focused and also a person builder. Mrs Akande has held my hands tight and always comes through for me personally and also BHAC. She always reminds me that I can do whatever I set my mind on. I love her and she knows, but I’m making this official; I Love you Mrs Dotun Akande.

On Nigerians Being Well Informed On How To Handle People Living With Autism
Nigerians in my opinion are not informed on how to deal with people living with Autism; there’s still a lot of misunderstanding, misdiagnosis and mismanagement of people who have ASD in Nigeria and the information channels are limited.

Awareness is growing, but it’s more in the urban areas than in the rural areas. We need to think of ways to get this awareness to the rural areas and the sooner the better.

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To Parents With Kids Living With ASD Who Need Support
The challenges parents face cannot be overemphasised. Parenting is difficult and having a child or children with ASD is challenging on its own and the society we live in does not make it easy for parents.

I hope that we help build a community free of discrimination and stigmatisation where love and support thrive so that parents can also mitigate their challenges and live long for their children.

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