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Nicole Scherzinger in Guyana with Unicef

Nicole Scherzinger in Guyana with Unicef

Posted by Shanelle Weir on July 15, 2014

I have always loved children and as a judge on the X Factor I always tried to be a really enthusiastic and supportive mentor. I feel it’s so important to encourage young people to be the best that they can be, no matter what their background is, so I jumped at the chance to travel to Guyana with Unicef, the brilliant global children’s charity.

Guyana is a fascinating country, sitting in South America but officially part of the Caribbean, with almost 90 per cent of the population living along its northern coast. This means their towns, hospitals and schools are packed and children don’t always have the space they need to play freely.

After arriving in the country, our first stop was a school in a deprived former mining town called Linden. Since mining ended, there isn’t much for people to do and jobs are scarce. Most people make money running small shops selling clothes or food, or travel south to the gold mines where they work as miners or cooks in the labour camps.

The school, named Linden Centre for Disabled Children, was amazing. It was set up to teach children living with disabilities. I found a classroom with deaf children communicating with sign language. Initially I watched quietly from the sidelines but they soon welcomed me in and began teaching me how to sign.

They showed me how to sign my own name and some pretty words like butterfly. Their enthusiasm was infectious and it was amazing how easily we were all able to interact and communicate. Their teacher is not deaf but was clearly so committed.

One girl, 10-year-old Ulancy Emmanuel, was such a character. Though she couldn’t speak, she found other ways to communicate and was actually one of the loudest people in the room. She enjoyed strutting her stuff so we worked on a few dance moves together and struck poses for the camera.

I’m used to being in front of a camera but this was very different to my day job. I always say that children like these have “diffabilities” not “disabilities”, because children all have different abilities. I know it’s not a common term but it illustrates ow every child is unique and special yet has the same right to learn and to play as others.

Two boys, 10-year-old twins Kabzuel and Kemuel Giddings, proved me right by jumping up and grabbing my hands, desperate to show me their play area. I was shocked by how small and barren it is. To them, the tiny courtyard is a space to play but to anyone from back home in the US or from the UK, it would look paltry. There is a broken basketball hoop in one corner and the floor is concrete.

According to head teacher Simone King, the children sometimes lose their balance and fall over and because the floor is so hard, they scratch themselves or have to stop playing so they don’t get injured. Luckily Unicef has supported a disability-friendly grass play park in the nearby capital Georgetown. I was desperate to tell them but it was a surprise so I had to keep quiet about the adventure we had in store the next day.

The children are all incredible individuals but I was especially moved by one girl called Nasia James who has Down’s syndrome. My aunt also has Down’s so Nasia’s story really resonated with me. I couldn’t help but give her a huge hug. She is 16 years old and is looked after by her grandfather while her parents are away working.

He is determined that she finishes school so she will be able to find a job and not just sit at home. He came to collect her at 3.30pm which seemed early to me. The headteacher said that in Linden, like in many towns across Guyana, children with disabilities must leave school early to avoid being bullied by youngsters from other schools.

It is so sad to think that children bully each other simply because they are too young to understand that some people in the world are different to them. But I was encouraged that this has not put off the families of children with disabilities who were able to come here to learn and play with their friends every day.

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