By Bibi Khatoon
Althea Thomas was just 4-years-old when her life completely changed.
It was one sunny afternoon in the village of Buxton, East Coast Demerara where she lived with her parents and seven siblings. During a recent interview with the News Room, Althea fondly remembered the moment which changed her life, as she got home from nursery school, took off her uniform and sat on the steps of their home.
“I was very stubborn,” she said smiling, as she went on to explain, “I didn’t want to give a pass, so I said ‘no’ and my sister accidentally pushed me and I fell on a rock. I got up, play everything the day but the night I couldn’t move, I swell up big and I was rushed to the [Georgetown Public] hospital.”
Althea injured her hip and several visits to the doctor from the age of 4 to 17, did not correct her injuries, leaving her bound to a wheelchair.
Though this affected the way she lived her life, Althea is determined not to let her inabilities affect the person she is. She wakes up every morning at 3 am to prepare meals for herself and young cousin.
“I can do everything. Cook, wash, clean, everything as a normal person, because I don’t make the chair stop me, I just do it,” she cheerfully told News Room.
She was taught how to take care of herself by one of her sisters who thought it was time her mother stopped helping her [Althea] with everything.
Althea was homeschooled by her parents as Guyana’s education system did not cater for persons with disabilities at that time and at age 21, she moved in with her sister.
Now at age 31, Althea has been given her first opportunity to attend school. In September 2017, she started the only Technical and Vocational school that caters for persons with disabilities – the Open Doors Centre – located at ‘C’ Field Sophia, Greater Georgetown.
“I was sent to school and they said they couldn’t handle it so I had to stay home. This was Nursery and Primary. I didn’t get to try Secondary because I was in the hospital,” Althea recalled.
The Open Doors Centre offers skills training in the areas of craft, information technology and carpentry.
Althea is currently pursuing a 2-year program in craft and hopes to pursue studies in Information Technology.
“I always want to learn to go on a computer and it doesn’t stop there, I am going to keep going all the way…because jobs right now require the internet and computer and stuff so as long as I get the knowledge to know about the computer, I can get any job,” she said.
One of Althea’s major challenges is using public transportation; she called on drivers to desist ignoring persons with disabilities.
Manager of the Open Doors Centre, Arthur Lewis also supported Althea’s call. He told News Room that it is important for the Education Ministry to do more to promote special needs education.