Building a brighter future for special needs children.jpg

Building a brighter future for special needs children

Algarve Resident Editor Inês Lopes visited special needs school NECI in Praia da Luz and describes the work of inspiring people who help enhance the quality of life of physically and mentally challenged children.

Once you’ve met her, you’ll never forget her.

Dra Maria Eduarda Santos is a remarkable woman. A special education specialist, she is passionate about life, something that is evident in her work.

For the past 18 years, she has managed to turn her dream of providing the best healthcare and education possible to physically and mentally challenged people into a reality.

NECI, the Núcleo de Educação da Criança Inadaptada, a school for special educational needs in Montinhos da Luz, west of Lagos, was founded on January 18, 1991 by Dra Maria Eduarda Santos, president of the school, and José Manuel Campos, vice president.

In what was once an obsolete, one-classroom primary school, they created NECI and expanded it into the multi-functional centre that it is now.

During my visit to NECI, I was greeted by dozens of bom dias, wide eyes, smiles and the curiosity of the students.

Many come from families with little financial resources but the happiness shared by everyone is probably a sign that Dra Eduarda’s vibrant personality rubs off on every member of staff and student.

The school is divided into two sections – the Early Intervention Centre for babies and children up to six years of age who are discovered to have a handicapping condition or other special need that may affect their development in the future, and the Occupational Activity Centre, where teenagers and adults immerse themselves in activities, from drawing and painting, needlecraft and IT classes that help enhance their mental development.

Two gyms and a Jacuzzi for water therapy are also available for their physical exercise and rehabilitation needs. A play park, especially adapted for disabled children, was recently inaugurated at the school.

Speech therapist Amanda Aparício aiding a student at lunchtime.
Speech therapist Amanda Aparício aiding a student at lunchtime.

“With the support of the community as well as the state, we have been able to invest in the latest rehabilitation equipment to ensure that we have the necessary tools for each individual case,” Dra Eduarda said.

Each case is assessed by health specialists such as speech therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, and different types of therapy are applied until the best results are achieved.

Dra Eduarda explained: “For example, if a child is too agitated, we will try water therapy which has a calming effect. Alternatively, our Snoezelen room, specially designed and equipped to deliver stimuli to various senses by using lighting effects, colour, sounds and scents, produces amazing results.

“If a child is lacking energy, we will try using the gym for instance.”

NECI’s students suffer from various degrees of physical and mental handicap; that is why a lot of time and thought have been put into every room in the school which now provides a wide programme of multi-sensorial therapies and activities. The out of school activities include going to the beach, hippotherapy and assisted swimming in the municipal pools.

NECI’s future

From left: José Manuel Campos, vice president of NECI, Lilla Radocz, drawing and painting teacher, Dra Eduarda Santos, president of NECI and student Carlos. Photo: Inês Lopes – THE RESIDENT GROUP.
From left: José Manuel Campos, vice president of NECI, Lilla Radocz, drawing and painting teacher, Dra Eduarda Santos, president of NECI and student Carlos. Photo: Inês Lopes – THE RESIDENT GROUP.

NECI’s mission now is to provide those students whose parents are too old or unable to care for them with a home.

Plans for the Lar da NECI (NECI’s Home), which will be built on a Câmara-granted 5,600sqm plot, next to the school premises, are in the final stages of approval and construction of it is expected to start before the end of the year.

“The building itself covers an area of 1,085sqm and represents a total cost of 1,250,000 euros, state-funded by 75 per cent,” said José Manuel Campos. “Now our objective is to ensure a safe future for our children.”

The Algarve Resident presented NECI students with beach towels, caps and footballs, all courtesy of the Liverpool FC Soccer Schools, on August 14, while they were enjoying a day out on the beach in Luz. Coordinator Mara Anastácio (pictured second from left, back row) said the gifts had made their day
The Algarve Resident presented NECI students with beach towels, caps and footballs, all courtesy of the Liverpool FC Soccer Schools, on August 14, while they were enjoying a day out on the beach in Luz. Coordinator Mara Anastácio (pictured second from left, back row) said the gifts had made their day

Funds are desperately needed to help NECI pay for the remaining 25 per cent (312,500 euros) of the total cost of the project, which does not include landscaping or the installation of a rehabilitation swimming pool. These extras are not covered by the state but are essential for the home’s good running.

Money is also needed to help pay for the construction of a lift to carry mobility impaired people from the ground floor of the NECI school to the first floor, where further classrooms will be installed when the administration offices move to the Lar. The state has agreed to fund the project by 75 per cent but 14,000 euros are still needed to meet the remaining 25 per cent.

If you would like to know more about NECI and its future projects, please call 282 788 692 or email info@neci.pt