Ebola scare threatens a 2-year planning for the 1st Workshop on Autism at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana
For two years, CHIP International (CHIP-I) was talking with the University of Cape Coast to deliver a training on autism and the Applied Behavior Analysis to the School of Medical Science. We planned a workshop for 2014. This all came about because a colleague had mentioned to her cousin, a pediatrician at the University Hospital, that CHIP-I had a training program on autism in Senegal.
In May, 2014, I hired a driver and we drove the 3- hour drive from Accra to Cape Coast to visit the University and the Dean of the Medical School(Gladys Amponsah) along with the two doctors (Dr. Stephen Laryea and Dr. Emmanuel Okai ) who were organizing it. Up until this point, everything was being conducted by email with the liaison of a Ghanaian volunteer, John Laryea, in New Jersey. The plans were being firmed up and leaving Cape Coast, I felt we were well on our way to making this workshop happen. The workshop was set for Nov. 10-14th: a 4-day conference, opening with the Dean and various other Ghanaian speakers, namely Dr. Ebenezer Badoe, Neurologist /“The Autism Doctor”, Ms. Nana Akua Owusu, Speech therapist, Mme. Dr. Irene Vanderpuye, Center for Referrals and Resources, and Araba Abakah Fordjor, on the Family Perspective. “Tommy” Stamatios Gianoumis, Trainer for CHIP International would conduct the workshop. A stakeholders’ forum would occur the last day. The workshop would take place on the university grounds in their 600-seat auditorium.
Throughout the summer, with the help of Araba, a fifth-year medical student at the School with a 3 year-old child with autism, deeply committed to assuring that this training would occur, and John, our volunteer liaison, the University began to publicize the workshop and a registration sheet began to materialize. In October, there were 80 interested participants. We expected this number would grow with doctors who had not yet signed up. All the logistics for the 4-day event were in place to feed the 100 plus participants which CHIP-I anticipated and assumed financing for. All costs were to be shouldered by CHIP-International with the exception of our lodging and meals: the University’s participation.
Four days before I was to leave for Ghana and ten days before the actual workshop, I spoke with the trainer, Tommy, and he announced that his office was concerned about the Ebola, raging in West Africa. They told him he would need a medical release upon his return to the US which would require a 3-week quarantine. He could not locate a hospital nor a doctor to assure him of this paper so that he could return to his job. Even though Ghana is “Ebola-free”, his job still insisted on this release. They were taking no risks with the children in the program.
I nearly had a heart attack. I thought the program would have to be scrapped. All the hard work, two-year planning and interest, would be scuttled, not counting the disappointment of the University and the total disillusion of the vendors who were committed to helping us manage the logistics of the workshop.
Luckily, John is very low-keyed and listened patiently to the dilemma as I telephoned him the Sunday before I was to leave. This put my trip in the air as well. What would be the point in my going if the trainer was not available?
I had racked my brain for possible alternatives and came up with two. The one in New Jersey could not leave her job. I was speaking with the second one in Senegal who told me she could not absent herself from her job, and as she was getting ready to hang up, she suddenly remembered Casey McFeely, who knew ABA and was working with special needs’ children in Accra. But she did not have her contact number. I would have to wait until she could reach her by Skype in the evening since she did not have WiFi connection just then. Time was running out.
I explained all this to John and he asked the name of the trainer. Looking on his registration list, he found her contact as she was signed up as a participant. I quickly called her and she readily agreed to work with us. Using our power point and adapting it to a Ghanaian audience, she was able to successfully conduct the workshop for the University!
The University had organized the groundwork for smooth running operations on the days of the workshop: students manned the registration tables on a daily basis and kept track of all participants. Coffee breaks and lunches were on time.
Two IT people were assigned to us, making sure mikes and Skype were available since we were able to connect with Tommy in the US, though we were 5 hours in advance. For two days, we had decent internet reception and we were able to connect with him for his comments for 1-2 hours per day.
The local television station “Coastal TV” interviewed me for 10 minutes to alert people to the workshop on autism at the University.
The stakeholders’ forum on the last day gave the participants information and contacts with resources in the audience, some of whom came in from Accra and were heads of centers or professionals employed at various schools or hospitals.
The workshop was a success! The Dean gave a closing talk as did I, expressing our gratitude for the active participation and excellent collaboration with the University.
Executive Director, CHIP International