Start by doing what’s necessary; then what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

– Francis of Assisi

For the past 10 years, the caregiversand staff at Patricks Speech and Language Centre have worked tirelessly to help children reduce the effects of living with autism while discoveringthe big things they are capable of accomplishing. For many years until about a year ago, the need to elevate children living with special needs to another level burned like a fire in the heart of MrsDotunAkande, the Director of Patricks Centre. The reality of working with special children showed her that it was one thing to help people embrace their unique abilities and another to teach them how to put same to use.

Having moments of positive change that brought tears of joy to the eyes of everyone was not enough for her.One thing remained; how to answer important questions prompted by these success stories. Overcoming the “what next” question felt like a hard nut to crack.It was Ken Wyatt who said “if you can see the invisible, then you can see the possible and provide the opportunities for trust, commitment and ways of empowering others to manage their past, present and future”.

The thought of initiating the secondary phase of the foundational plan stared her in the face and kept her up at night. After pondering on how to bridge this glaring gap, a vivid thought paved the way for the hitherto elusive answer “if what we need is not available, why not create it?” This question metamorphosed into a new one; “what can these gifted children do?” The answer followed immediately; “work with their hands” and that was how the Gazelle’s Place initiative came to life.

All thanks to Diamond Development Initiatives and The United States African Development Foundation (USADF), a grant was put in place to support the project. Built on the need to elevate the successful students of PSLC to greater heights, this project from the Pure Souls Learning Foundation (the NGO arm of Patricks Speech and Language Learning Centre)is a huge one. 

The mission is to empower children, give them the ability to earn an honest living, and also affect the Nigerian economy positively by building a business out of the skill acquired. This will improve their sense of self-worth and give them a level playground to express their unique abilities in the society.

The name “Gazelle” is very symbolic, here is why: The gazelle is a swift animal that has powerful vision and is swift on its feet. It is so beautiful to behold and understands the importance of fixing its gaze on its destination while summoning the unusual courage and immeasurable speed to outrun its fast-moving enemies. The Gazelle’s place initiative will not only offer hands-on trainings, it will also help these precious beings think big and wield the power of entrepreneurship. The children’s lofty dreams will come to life through the provision of the right tools and stimulation of unshakeable confidence which will help them inspire others to fulfill their dreams.

One of the skills to be taught is the sewing of table cloths, napkins, and chair covers; after which a rental company will be set up where the finished products will be loaned to vendors/events planners for use. After the used materials are returned; washing, folding, ironing and packaging will be done by the staff and they will be paid salary at the end of the month. In Mrs. DotunAkande’s words, “the Gazelle’s place initiative can be likened to creating a niche for people with disability; who ordinarily would not be hired to have some form of employment. This will build their confidence level, give them an opportunity to interact with other people and give us a sense of joy that we have given them something. The fact that they cannot go to mainstream schools does not mean that they should come to Patricks for the rest of their lives. Our joy is to see our children do well and watch them go on to do great things in life”.

The first set of people to be trained under this initiative will be girls in the IDP camps who will be equipped and evaluated at the end of 6 months.

Successful beneficiaries will be allowed to go back home to make impact and those who wish to stay back can join the “train the trainers” program which will help them transfer knowledge to the children living with special needs. This will not only improve their self-worth and social skills; it will also give them a source of income.

Edith Wharton once said “there are two ways of spreading light:  to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it”. This project has beendesigned to become an unending success story that will encourage others to embrace their uniqueness and make so much out of what seems to be nothing.

Through the investment of time and resources, this moving train will push down every obstacle in its path and make the world a better place for everyone.

Helping these unique beings find their voices and embrace their distinctive ability never ends; there is always a new beginning. The Gazelle’s Place which was launched on the 16th of May 2018 will not only elevate children with special needs, it will also change the name and face of disability in Nigeria.