A care worker from Newcastle is so committed to helping people with learning disabilities that she regularly goes the extra mile – sometimes even as many as 4,500 and to another continent altogether.
Carolyn Palmer, from Northumberland, uses personal holidays away from her busy day job at learning disability charity United Response to visit Mombasa in Kenya – where she hopes to help create education opportunities and improve life chances for local disabled children.
Her mission is to build and develop the African country’s first integrated school where children with learning disabilities and autism are taught alongside mainstream pupils in the same building.
Carolyn joined United Response in 2009 and over the past decade has been trained in a variety of person-centred support methods enabling her to help adults and young people with learning disabilities make informed choices and live truly independent lives. She’s also qualified in cognitive behavioural therapy and has a Masters in Autism.
Carolyn explains: “I’m incredibly passionate about helping people with learning disabilities and autism however I can, and am very lucky to have worked with great colleagues and so many different types of people with learning disabilities for all these years – it has been truly inspiring.”
She now wants to use her vast experience with United Response and share her knowledge more widely than ever, travelling to Kenya to replicate the person-centred care she gives to people with learning disabilities back home.
“I’m very proud of the way we support people with learning disabilities in the UK, and other countries should look at us as a model,” she continues.
Carolyn first visited Mombasa on holiday in 2009 and was struck by how differently people, particularly children, with learning disabilities or autism were treated in Kenya’s second-largest city. “They’re at least 20 years behind,” she adds. “I saw people with learning disabilities out on the streets – something was very wrong.”
Carolyn has partnered with a local school in Mombasa, called Topcrest, and is working to integrate children with learning disabilities or autism alongside existing pupils: “I want to bring these children into their communities, integrate them with others their age and give them a voice.”
She hopes to install a specially-designed sensory room, named The Yellow Rose, and hire specialist teachers so the children can be taught in accordance with the standard curriculum. She has recently raised funds for computers, books and uniform, and also plans to host livestock and crops on the school site – cared for and grown by pupils. “I hope that Topcrest will one day be entirely self-sufficient,” she adds.
“I’ve learnt so much since being at United Response and it’s an organisation that truly invests in its staff – I want to take this and somehow give something back,” continues Carolyn. “Empowering vulnerable people to be themselves and be part of their communities in Kenya is just the beginning.”
“Ultimately I want to show the people of Mombasa that there should be no boundaries or barriers when it comes to schooling,” she finishes. “Children with learning disabilities or autism have the same right to inclusion and an education as anyone else – wherever they are in the world.”