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Lady Hochoy Home celebrates 50th anniversary

By ANGELA PIDDUCK Sunday, April 3 2011

click on pic to zoom in
FILE PHOTO: Residents at Lady Hochoy Home....
FILE PHOTO: Residents at Lady Hochoy Home....

In 1957, Lady Thelma Hochoy, wife of the then Acting Governor of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Solomon, and Mrs Rose Miles, an American whose husband, Milton, was in charge of the Alcoa operation in Trinidad, paid an official visit to the House of Refuge, now called the St James Medical Complex. There they were confronted by 25 children with severe mental retardation, living among destitute and elderly mental patients at the short-staffed institution, and others who lived at the Psychiatric Hospital in St Ann’s.

The children’s plight in such unsuitable surroundings appeared terrible and hopeless. Their visit changed the lives of those children and gave hope and meaning to the lives of thousands more, as the two women immediately began to search for better facilities to accommodate the children. With help from Father Michael O’ Loughlin, they worked tirelessly to realise the dream that was born that day – to establish a residence to cater specifically for children with severe mental retardation.

By 1958, the Trinidad and Tobago Association for Retarded Children (TTARC) was formed, and remains the umbrella for all the Lady Hochoy Homes, the Memisa Centres and the Penal Day Care Centre. TTARC entered into a contract with the Carmelite Sisters to provide the necessary services on a consistent and efficient basis. Its Mission Statement extends to providing an environment for not only children but “persons with mental retardation” to enable them to achieve their full potential for integration into the main stream of a well informed society.

The first residential centre, the Lady Hochoy Home, was opened in Cocorite on March 29, 1961, with an intake of the 25 children from the House of Refuge, and two weeks after those from the St Ann’s Hospital.

The Centre was built on land donated by the Government, and funded on the basis of a two-thirds contribution by the government and one-third raised by the Association.Donations are always welcome as there are extras needed for the children. This residence at Harding Place celebrates its 50th anniversary with a Thanksgiving Mass at St Finbar’s Roman Catholic Church, Morne Coco Road, Diego Martin, on Tuesday April 5, 2011, at 10.30 am, followed by refreshments at the St Dominic’s Pastoral Centre. Former first lady, Zalayhar Hassanali, is the new patron since Lady Hochoy’s passing in April 2010.

I was amazed to find yet another best kept secret in this country, a beautiful, clean compound managed by Guyanese-born, Sister Bertill Dean, where the mentally challenged of all ages find “A home in the true sense.”

The eldest resident is 72 years old, while Sister Anne Bartholomew, a founding member of the Association, who has been there from inception is still able to interact with the children. Sister Bertill, who seemed to be everywhere at one and the same time, has been at the Centre for 34 years, and my former hockey friend, Lucille Tom Quong, who became involved as a parent herself more than 40 years ago and is a member of the TTARC Board of Directors, both stressed: “All the Centres run by TTARC emphasize the development of the students’ self-esteem, educational capability, mobility and social acceptability. Students are taught to respect themselves and family members, and are encouraged to participate in religious, sporting and cultural events.”

Realising that the children in residence were capable of learning, a Day School was opened in May 1961. Today, day students are also accepted, and well qualified teachers conduct classes in bright, airy classrooms, designed to satisfy the needs of the children who get individualised attention because there are a smaller amount of children to deal with. When they are able to do more than second standard work, an attempt is made to mainstream them. As we toured, it was obvious that Sister Bertill is the axis on which every single department revolves. In the kitchen area, a supervised group of “little ones” had made a platter of golden brown fried bakes, with sausages; in one second the observant nun saw that more sausages were needed and had them sent over.. There are 92 residents, and the elder ones help themselves, also with mopping and sweeping and with the severely handicapped. Seventy day and night staff are provided by the Ministry of Health. The home has its own beautiful chapel where Mass is said on Saturdays. The extensive grounds are well-kept with flower beds, and the older residents live in rooms on the perimeter of the compound.

The very important Early Intervention Programme (EIP) catering for the specific needs of children under five years old, is managed by physiotherapist Louis Johnston, who basically teaches the programme at the Centre’s physio room, which is fitted with all the necessary equipment. EIP aims to improve the ability of the disabled child and make them more independent of their parents or caregivers by identifying and assessing problems, and providing early intervention relevant to their needs. “We look at what the child could do at the different milestones and teach them how to reach the next milestone in terms of self help, motor, social, language skills and other needs, referring them to different agencies if needed,” explains Sister Bertill. “Toilet training is one of the big things if they are to be ready for school, they also learn to feed, dress and undress themselves.”

Last Tuesday, there was lots of excitement, as first the group which will take part in the International Special Olympics in Greece in June, returned to the Home, from a function to introduce Trinidad and Tobago’s representatives to the Games. Then the school was taking part in the Power Gen Special Sports the very next day, with no transportation problems to the south. Sister proudly pointed to the three buses owned by the Home, and said “God has been good over the years, we also have wheelchairs. There have been lots of changes over 50 years, even the language, as no longer are derogatory terms being used to refer to these ‘special’ people.”.

A stone’s throw away, on Dunlop Drive, the Lady Vocational Centre, managed by Sister Margarita Chan, was started to cater for the children as they got bigger. “This compound was too small” explained Sister Bertill. “What was good is the fact that we got it in the same vicinity. Parents have access to more programmes and the older children who live here go there also for more adult programmes, such as, making Carnival costumes.” For years now, the Vocational Centre’s prizewinning band and individuals, are produced by Cheryl Samuel.

What does Sister Bertill Dean — a blessed woman — want for the future? “The mentally challenged to be included in all aspects of society. Respect for the adults so they live on their own with some supervision, and are able to go out to jobs or take part in the daily activities of living just like everybody else. Where the children are concerned, a lot of their parents are dying and the only place accommodating them are the Homes For the Aged. This is not appropriate, they are young still, so if there is a place for the young ones, parents do not have to pray that their child dies before them.”

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