Local mother of 9 on a mission to save children with special needs

As 16-year-old Salem Hills High School student Kail Belk stood at Times Square this past Sept., she looked up at the Jumbotron, and there she was dressed in pink and crowned like the princess she is. That day, Kai, who has Down syndrome, was standing next to Ghanaian royalty representing children like her in her native country who now have a chance of survival because her mother fought for her chance to live.

In 2011, Kai was adopted by her parents Laura and Mike Belk as the first child with Down syndrome to have been adopted from Ghana. According to Laura Belk, who has adopted several international children with special needs, it wasn’t just the adoption process that presented challenges; it was so much deeper and even terrifying.

“Kai was taken by her birth father to the fetish priestess where he was told that Kai was really a snake in human form, and that she needed to be turned back into a snake,” Laura Belk explained. 

What many people don’t know is that in Ghana, children with disabilities are known as “Spirit Children,” and have long been victims of ritual killings. 

Area news network Al Jazeera published the investigative findings by journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas who uncovered these ritualistic killings. An article published on Al Jazeera stated that each year an unknown number of disabled children are murdered “because of the belief that they are in some way possessed by evil spirits set on bringing ill fortune to those around them.” The practice is said to stem from ancient tradition, and there is an unknown number of deaths that some believe is in the thousands.

When the Belks sought to adopt Kai, they were shocked to learn that these types of things were happening at all, let alone today’s day in age. Laura Belk explained that it took them a year and three trips to the country before they were able to adopt Kai, and that during that year, there were several times when they thought she wouldn’t make it.

“They wouldn’t let us get her,” she said. “They keep asking, ‘Why would you want to adopt a child like this?’ It took us three trips over there to convince them to let us have her. It’s a miracle that she survived because she was in an orphanage, and her birth father found where she was and we had to quickly move her to another location to try to keep him from finding her. He saw her as a curse, just felt as long as she was alive that that’s why his life was hard, and he wanted to turn her into a snake. It was so difficult because every time we had to leave her and come back home, I didn’t know that she was still gonna be there when we came back. But miracles happened and thankfully, we were able to bring her home.”

Raising Kai

For the past 12 years, the Belks have raised Kai as the youngest of their nine children, and say that their family would not have been complete without her.

“We have nine Children, one biological son with Down syndrome, and our youngest four have special needs and were adopted internationally,” Laura Belk explained. “Kai is our youngest, and she is loved by so many, and just loves to be around others.”

Kai was recently named Athlete of the Week at Salem Hills High School for her participation in the Unified Sports program, and her mom said that it has been a joy to watch her interact with her peers at school. 

“This is the first year that she’s done Unified Sports, but she just loves it,” Laura Belk said. “She’s a part of the school choir and she just had a dance recital. She’s in dance class and wants to be on the stage with her friends and a part of what they’re doing. They’ve been so good at Salem Hills to include her and to accept her and to help her where she’s at and to make sure she feels successful in all these different programs and activities.”

On a mission to save others like Kai

Laura Belk said that upon learning that Kai was the first child with Down syndrome to have been adopted from Ghana, she made it her mission to save children like her daughter, and she has since created a nonprofit organization called Nurturing Nations to do just that.

“We started to look at other organizations and thought maybe we could join with them to try to advocate for these children, but then I found out that such a small percentage of donations actually got to the kids. I didn’t like that, so I started my own charity so that 100% goes to the children,” se said. “I donate all my time, and we pay for all our own travel because I wanted a charity that people could donate to that they know that’s actually going to be used to save a child’s life.”

“I can’t adopt them all; I wish I could,” she continued. “I have hundreds of children in Ghana, Mali and Uganda. They’re all my kids and I love them and I worry about them and I care for them. We work really hard to try to raise the funds that are needed to care for these  children.”

Laura Belk explained that one of the main things that her organization does to help children with special needs in these developing areas is to provide educational resources to the children’s peers.

“We have a special care house which is for Children who have severe disabilities, where our goal is to have the children with disabilities be in school and be educated with their typical peers,” she said. “The goal is to help children start to see children with special needs as their friends and to change that belief in that they are wicked or cursed.”

Another part of that education is to bring this to the attention of Ghanaian royalty, and that’s what is happening right now. Laura Belk is on a mission to educate all those of influence from peers to royalty to keep these special individuals not only alive, but give them a chance at a life where they can reach their potential and touch the lives of all they come in contact with.

“I’m really excited that I’ve gotten together with Ghanaian royalty,” she said. “They’re joining with me and they are wanting to change this as well. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”

Nurturing Nations is actively searching for volunteers and donors especially this season. From Tuesday Nov. 28 (Giving Tuesday) until the end of the year, donations will be matched up to $10,000. 

For more information, visit this website.

Arianne Brown
Arianne Brown
Arianne Brown is a mom of nine who writes columns for many local and national publications. She currently resides in Payson, and enjoys looking for good happenings in her area and sharing them for others to read about. For more of her stories, search "A Mother's Write" on Facebook.

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