Over ten years ago, SIM missionaries, John and Phyllis Coleman, adopted twin girls from southern Ethiopia long after their 3 natural born children were grown and back in Canada. The twins were very premature and one has cerebral palsy. As the girls began growing up in the capital of northern Ethiopia, Bahir Dar, John and Phyllis, neighbors with disabled children started asking for help and Phyllis began sharing all she had learned about caring for disabled children as well as her natural love for all children. The doors began to open and the vision for Hidden Abilities was born. The goal of Hidden Abilities is to identify children with disabilities, assess them, link them to available services, provide physical and occupational therapy with the goal of them entering school if at all possible. For the children that this is not possible, the goal is to help them and their families to reach their potential with dignity. A great deal of support is given to each family as well as training in how to care for their children. The staff spends much time in the actual homes of the children with neighbors and extended family often involved. It is this home-based care that makes this project unique in Bahir Dar and gives us opportunities to forge meaningful, deeper relationships. For the Gospel we have realized that this ministry effortlessly crosses ethinic, religious and economic barriers. People are open for help and are open to conversation about God who knows and cares about them and their child. We cannot overstate the need for this ministry! Many of these children were neglected and hidden away when they were discovered to not be "normal". Sometimes the disability is very mild and correctable. Hidden children are sometimes not given regular food, or even touch. These are children in the city of Bahir Dar. The countryside situation is totally untouched in terms of resources or education.
Recently, an orphan infant who spent his first four months in a hospital and was then transferred to an orphanage was brought in. The baby was evaluated at Hidden Abilities and appeared to be hopeless. The little one's head was stiffly thrown back and unmovable. He did not seem aware of his surroundings. The orphanage staff were given instructions which were mainly based on the hypothesis that the baby had been neglected in terms of attention, stimulation, and love. Now, two and a half weeks later, the baby's head has full range of movement and he is bright and alert. The orphanage staff and the Hidden Abilities staff are thrilled beyond measure! (And we are as well!!)
Our dream for the future of Hidden Abilities is that it will be a model training program for physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. These are all in the infant stages of development in this country.