Written by An Howell. Sammy’s mum, advocate, supporter and loudest cheerleader
Way back in 1974 when Sammy was born, I may not have known anything about Down syndrome or how it might affect our lives but what I did know was that the baby girl I held in my arms was my daughter and whatever the condition I had just been told she had might bring with it she was going to be coming home with me. Home, where she would be loved and supported to live her best life, however long that might be for. Without any complications I was given a life expectancy for her of around twenty-five years. Thank goodness things have changed and understanding is growing and I can say that she has comfortably exceeded that expectancy and continues to live her best life as she moves towards her 50’s.
Life has not been and is not without its challenges, ups and downs and twists and turns but Sammy has a life well lived with there being many stories that I could share with you; some good, some bad and some just funny like the time she managed to hold up a train, when she was about four years old, because her toy monkey decided it was going to jump onto the track or when I found her grinning at me after she’d climbed into the, luckily clean, rubbish bin, but I digress. What I’d like to share is part of what Sammy is doing with her life now and how she continues to move forward enjoying her life and being a lifelong learner.
It is through mutual choice that Sammy currently lives at home with me where we live a semi-rural life and are lucky enough to live fairly near the wonderful Clink’s Care Farm, a 143 acre working farm that is run as a social enterprise and “Combines the care of the land with the care of people”. (Words from Clink’s Care Farm website)
Whereas I believe that people with Down syndrome should have equality of opportunity to be able to undertake paid employment or to follow a chosen career pathway, for Sammy, although there was a period of time when she had a paid part-time job at Pizza Hut, this is not a realistic or suitable option right now. Having a Care Plan that enables her to go to Clink’s Farm twice a week as a Farm Helper though provides her with the opportunity to continue flourishing and live a life that she loves within a caring and supportive environment where she feels welcomed, involved and valued. It is the ethos of the farm that everybody can be involved in a way they are able and happy to be whilst continually being gently encouraged and supported to become engaged in a wide variety of tasks and activities. During the time that Sammy has been going to the farm, which is about five years now, her confidence has grown considerably in many areas as she has discovered how she can be part of a team and play her part in caring for the well looked after animals, working in the market garden or the veg prep area, going out and helping with deliveries or working in the barn shop among many other things, the list of jobs to be done on a working farm is endless and changes with the seasons with the farm helpers being supported and encouraged to be as involved as possible.
Sammy is without doubt an outdoor sort of person and life as a farm helper suits her benefiting both her physical and mental wellbeing as she works hard and takes pride in her achievements. I’m not sure that there’s anyone quite so proud as she is when she’s been able to sweep up the yard to her own exacting standards although she does feel pretty good too when she’s been able to muck out the donkeys or the goat shed. While not being everybody’s idea of fun Sammy loves it and is skilled at it enjoying the physical work and feeling confident in her ability to do it well. Being able to be engaged in physical activities such as sweeping, mucking out, pushing a wheelbarrow down a muddy track, carrying bags of hay, apple picking, helping to mend fences and walking there’s lots of walking, without doubt help to keep Sammy physically fit but they also benefit her mental health as she works with and alongside others to complete tasks and find satisfaction in developing existing skills and gaining new ones.
We all need to feel valued, worthy and accepted for who we are and sadly this is not always the case for people with Down syndrome, we’ve had our share of issues over the years although things have most definitely moved forward in many areas since Sammy was born. So, while she may not be doing anything ground breaking Sammy is out there living her best life, loving it and being accepted for who she is without being expected to conform to anyone else’s ideas or expectations.
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