Autism Awareness Month
The Autism Awareness event this year was geared to the children in all seven special needs centers in Dakar. Each center presented artistic work by the children at the Senegalese national monument Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine (The Monument to African Renaissance).
Under the slogan "Autisme, Nous sommes tous concernés" (Autism: We should all care), CHIP International initiated and spearheaded the creation of COJMA – Comite d’organisation de la Journee Mondiale de l’Autisme (Committee for the Organization of World Autism Day) – a committee which spent over 3 months organizing the details of the day. The committee included representatives from all seven centers. Organizations such as Special Olympics, Handicap International and Speak Up Africa were also represented in COJMA and contributed immensely to the success of the Autism Awareness Day 2016 event.
COJMA chose the theme "Management of autism in families", with the main objectives to:
Educate and encourage parents to easily detect the early signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
Educate the general population for a greater acceptance and integration of people with autism
Raise awareness among authorities about ASD in order to create an environment conducive to the comprehensive care of families and people with autism
Lead authorities to include the World Day of autism in the national events calendar of Senegal in subsequent years
Bring all the families of those affected by autism to form a National Association of Autism in Senegal (A.N.A.SEN)
The day was celebrated with great pomp as a way for COJMA to educate parents, families and the general public on the need for early identification and care for children with autism. Publicity materials - banners, posters, invitations, T-shirts, caps, as well as a logo - for COJMA were designed by Speak Up Africa pro bono. Both local and national radio and TV stations covered various events of the day, lunch for the 250 children from the centers was distributed, and a dozen musicians gave of their time and talent to play and sing for the children and encourage them to dance. Majorettes and six wrestlers put on a show to add to the entertainment. Amazingly, all this was done for free! The plaza of Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine was a sight to behold as hundreds of spectators enjoyed the shows and autism was brought into the spotlight in Senegal.
It was not just entertainment though. Short speeches educating the public about ASD were given by the Administrator of the Monument and a representative from the Ministry of Health at the event. In the morning, the Minister of Health opened a panel discussion session featuring seven prominent speakers working with children with autism, and strongly promised her support. Much media attention was given to the event, and there were over 600 persons who attended.
At nightfall, the grand Monument de la Renaissance Africaine was lit up in la lumiere bleue - the blue light marking autism awareness.
On the 23rd of the month, a march through the streets of central Dakar was organized to continue spreading awareness of autism through the month of April.
Autism: we should all care.