The miracle of the Sunrise Adult
Training Centre has been a reality in the Cayman Islands since 1986, helping
many disabled young men and women to live more full lives.
Not many are aware of the
programme’s beginnings however, and what has been required to maintain its
optimal functioning, as well as growth.
The programme was started in the
70’s when an abnormally high number of
Caymanians were exhibiting symptoms of a disease now known as Cayman Cerebella
Ataxia. The disease affects the cerebellum of the brain and causes the area to
be underdeveloped leading to impaired speech, motor skills and other problems.
The prevalence of the disease in
Cayman, which is otherwise extremely rare (1 in every 32 million people), led
to a study that pinpointed that the condition was directly related to the
shallow gene pool in the Cayman Islands and the likelihood of interbreeding.
The arrival of the disease in Cayman was then traced back to one woman
from Britain, whose descendants in Cayman were carrying the gene.
Since this revelation at least some
30 years ago, there has been only one case of the disorder recorded in the
However, a programme was formed to
help the children affected by Cerebella Ataxia and other disorders, which was
set up at West Bay Presbyterian Church next to the light house, hence the name
the Light House School.
The School was then taken over by
the government and moved behind the hospital where it remained until being
moved next to the Red Bay Primary.
When the initial students became
too old to attend the school however, the Sunrise Adult Training Centre was
When the Centre started, there were
only 9 “trainees’ and 4 staff. It has developed steadily since then, and now
provides a total of 58 “clients” – as they are now called, with care and
developmental stimulation throughout the week.
Currently, the government supports
a great deal of what is needed to keep the clients and the facility going but
much of the help is also community based, according to Sunrise Director Roberta
“The help we receive from the
community is magnificent. We are the only game in town when it comes to dealing
with disabled people over the age of 18, and as a result we have to cater to a
wide range of disabilities,” says. Gordon.
Clients dealt with at the facility
range anywhere from 18 to the 55 and according to Gordon, the fundamental
purpose of the programme is to improve the lives of disabled adults by helping them
to become as independent as possible.
She adds that this means staff is
compelled to be creative and focus on the person not the disability, which is a
great advantage in the care offered.
To further their independence, clients
are also given the opportunity to go out into the workforce when it is possible
for them to do so and 18 persons from Sunrise have already been placed in jobs
including renowned Special Olympian Andrew Smilley.
Special Olympics Aquatics Director
Penny McDowall explains, “The Sunrise Centre programme is the catalyst for the
success Andrew and many others are experiencing. The activities they provide
help the clients to learn independence and even take on vocational roles, which
they could not do without this kind of assistance and care.”
Part of the process of getting
people working involves having staff from the organisation actually going to
talk with employers and seeing what is available.
This is followed by onsite training
of the individual to be hired, which also involves Sunrise Staff.
Once the subject is trained in a
particular task, the Sunrise staff will check on their progress once every two
There are many different levels and
forms of disabilities and some persons are not able to work
Other issues facing the Centre
include stigma and the range of feelings and emotions that often accompany many
disabilities – not the least of which may at times come from a disabled
person’s own family being overprotective or sheltering them too much.
Gordon says she hopes to
communicate to people the great importance of creating a world in which all people
are considered and made to feel welcome.
She says a report done by the
Ministry of Education and the Sunrise Centre that was intended to help with
legislation was tabled last year, adding that the last step in the process was
to get feedback from the disabled persons, as they are the ones most affected.
Some of the issues being looked at
in the report relate to access for the disabled, which the administrator said
was a matter of utmost urgency in the Cayman Islands.
Staff at the centre says they are
hoping to get into a new building soon and pointed out that the Government has
committed 1.3 million to the new facility.
currently a waiting list for persons who want to enrol in the programme and we
want to be able to do what we can to accommodate them,” Gordon says.
She added that she wanted to see a
fully functioning programme practicing needed services that would allow
disabled persons to have what they require to live decently.
“Disability should be an
inconvenience not a tragedy. They should still be able to have a life.”