Recoginsing her exceptional service in changing the concept of stigma around Autism in among Sierra Leoneans, the Queen of England through the British High Commission awarded Mary Pentimity, Director and Co-founder of Sierra Leone Autistic Society. Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and competitive behavior. Parents usually notice symptoms during the first three years of their child’s life signs often develop gradually. According to the Director and Co-founder of the Sierra Leone Autistic Society, Mary Pentimity, the idea of her establishing the Society in Sierra Leone came as a rejection faced in accessing school for her elder child after returning from the United Kingtom in 2013. She disclosed that after exhausting all the school possibilities they decided to go to the Ministry of education where they were told there were no facilities to need the needs of a child like her. This according to her was when she realised if she had stayed all her life in Sierra Leone her child who not have had the opportunity to access school or health facilities. Mary disclosed she was surprised to faced with series of stigmas within their community where they stay in Freetown, as anything that went wrong in their community will be directed to them as the ones with the witch/devil child even among professional.
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“That for me was something really new. So I met Alice Browne with whom I work and decided to work on something and started the Browne-Pen Special School in 2017,” she said, disclosing to date they have about 30 children in the facilities. She said due to lack of enough space most parents who come with the child will be return home as they cannot accommodate them, adding that they have discussed that with the government and have promised to issue land space for the construction of a larger and spacious facility for the Autistic children in the country. “Also other families whose children are not in the school do access out health services in Freetown and place center in Makeni where over 120 children on a daily basis play and spend time as they have no where to play or access education. According to her, in Sierra Leone people look at Autism patients as witch craft or devilish people, which made her to believe it is an issue of life and death in Sierra Leone which is which she established the facility. She disclosed beside, space problem, access to transportation is another serious issue facing autism patients accessing the school at Wellington, explaining by the time the children go to school they will have faced with series of challenges. “Receiving the award from the Her Majesty the Queen speaks volume about the work we are doing in the country” she said, explaining the award is the biggest motivation for her to keep doing what she does in providing services for Autism patients. Presenting the Honours of ‘Points of Light’ award to Mary on behalf of her Majesty the Queen of England, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Simon Mustard, said the award is in recognition of Mary truly inspiring work in establishing the first Autism school in the country. The award was presented to Mary during the Reception hosted by the British High Commissioner in celebrating the International Day of the Girl at Runnymede, Main Hill Station Road.
By Alhaji Manika Kamara
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