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India

A MOUNTAIN OF HOPE FOR THE MENTALLY HANDICAPPED

Updated: December 09, 1993 05:00 PM GMT
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A big but ordinary house near here resembles a beehive. In each room, a couple of children on the floor or at a table play games, draw or read, guided by volunteers from a secondary school.

Jackie and Prudence Lingham, who in 1989 started as voluntary helpers at the home, Bukit Harapan (mountain of hope) therapeutic community for the mentally handicapped, now spend most of their days there.

The house, after several moves, is in Likas, a community 6 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state here in East Malaysia.

Prudence studied psychology for four years and is a speech therapist. Jackie assists in administration of the house and, after training in Kuala Lumpur, leads a team of volunteers taking turns at the Child Helpline.

The phone call-in service (toll-free thanks to Telekom Malaysia) has as its slogan: "We listen, we care, we act." Callers include abused or abandoned children and teens with problems.

Bukit Harapan´s founder, Anne Keyworth, trained in curative education, currently cares for 28 mentally handicapped persons ages 2 to 42.

Ten staff members stay at the house. Another 10 "special persons" come for day care, and many co-workers and helpers come to help in various programs.

Anne said the Gospel of St. Luke, in which Jesus said, "Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name, welcomes me," inspired the Bukit Harapan community.

"No child, abused or abandoned, will ever be refused a welcome by the members of the community." she insists.

"God has been very generous in giving Bukit Harapan a great number of co-workers with different skills, so much so that it has become a therapeutic community," Anne says.

She said a similar therapeutic community is run in India by the L´Arche group of Jean Vanier.

Prudence and Ann are but two of those who serve the "special persons." Their co-workers help with hydrotherapy for cerebral palsy sufferers, plus activities ranging from horse-riding to occupational therapy.

Eleven children brought to Bukit Harapan suspected of being brain-damaged were found to have no brain damage but were slow in mental activity. Parental misunderstanding and work pressure had caused alienation and mental blocking.

After only two weeks in the community, experiencing love and care, they learned to laugh and speak again.

Volunteers are expected to be spiritual in their approach, with empathy for those they assist, and to learn ways to love and care for special persons.

During January, two co-workers will go with Jackie to Penang, West Malaysia, to train with De La Salle Brother John D´Cruz and his community to learn techniques for assisting those with mental blocking.

Their hope is that those they help can return to an ordinary school after overcoming their problems.

Ann emphasizes that skill and equipment cannot take the place of personal love and care for each "special person." More volunteers are needed to help care for mentally handicapped and answer helplines.

Volunteers are also needed to give moral support to rape victims in courts, because alleged perpetrators of the crime usually have more supporters than the victim.

She said they hope the Church or state will provide one or two acres to expand the house to serve more people.

END

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