When I was at Camino Nuevo (run by our partner Manos Unidas) in Cusco last Fall I met this really cute little guy named Gabriel. Gabriel came to Camino Nuevo on his mother’s back when he was three years old and not yet talking. His Mom begged the teachers to teach him to talk. Apparently he spent his first month screaming hysterically, turning over furniture and banging his head on the wall. He would only stop screaming for seconds. It took several months to teach him to sit in a chair. The staff suspected that he had autism. They spent hours working with his aggressive behaviour and his obsessions. They taught him how to communicate and uncovered his talents and abilities.
At age 11, through our Inclusion Program (introducing high functioning autistic children into the regular school system), Gabriel entered a local classroom. Academically he was fully capable but he couldn’t handle the noise and chaos of a regular class. He regressed and was brought back to Camino Nuevo. When I met him he was happy and well-adjusted. At Camino Nuevo he thrives. He read me a story about a dog – he loves animals – and he showed me some beautiful paintings he had done of wild animals.
Soon Gabriel will graduate into a new program, Phawarispa, to learn transition skills for job training in the future. Amidst all the statistics of successful integration the stories of children like Gabriel sometimes get lost. He was only in our Inclusion Program for four months and will not complete a regular school degree at this time but it was an important step that he needed to take and I feel great that he did. Manos Unidas is doing a wonderful job integrating children with special needs but they are also doing a wonderful job assessing and supporting children like Gabriel for whom inclusion doesn’t yet work.