Saturday, February 8, 2014

Good news!!

These past couple weeks have seen a significant victory for inclusive special education here in Mwanza.  Helena was successfully enrolled in the local Montessori school.  This is a significant move as being wheelchair bound and attending school with your peers has been virtually unheard of in Mwanza up until this point, even at the Montesoori School.  As well, Edward has been welcomed with open arms by the Sisters of our lady of Kilimanjaro at Upendo Primary School (fitting, since Upendo means love!)

However, with help from the school's founder, Sister Denise Matel, and the staff (who had to overcome a bit of reservation since last year they had turned mom away when she came to enroll Helena on her own) Helena was welcomed on the first day.  Providentially, her teacher, Mr. Arnold, himself has a disability; he moves around the classroom with the help of a staff since his right foot is shriveled and useless.  After the first week, things seem to be running smoothly and on schedule with bathroom accommodations and
Helena in her new classroom, called "Giraffe"

Edward's story

Edward, is a 4th grade student with cerebral palsy who had been studying at Huruma.  He has already overcome many challenges from poor muscle development to difficulty expressing his learning through writing.  However, Edward is a fighter.  Sister Mora, a former Irish volunteer a Huruma school, once said Edward's knees used to be bloody from crawling on the cement floors at Huruma, since his legs weren't strong enough to walk.  He loves learning English and is sharp in math, having memorized his basic addition facts.

Like any great mom should be (but unfortunately not many are here), Edward's mom is a fantastic advocate for him.  When she found out that Helena had gotten into a regular classroom with her peers she wanted to find a similar situation for her son.  However, with Edward, being in a regular classroom is much more difficult.  The primary issue is that many Tanzania teachers use the "chalk and talk" method of teaching.  As the name conjures, this method involves the teacher writing a lot of information on the blackboard and the students copying it down.  For a student with writing difficulties, this style of learning is extremely difficult.  

Edward's mother began the search for a new school with the one that his brother attends, Upendo, a Sisters of our Lady of Kilimanjaro School.  Together we visited the school, and while the grounds are nice and the teachers seem friendly, we were unsure whether they were ready to accommodate a student with special needs.  God comes through.  The head teacher at the school, a jolly sister who immediately gave Edward a hug, bent down and started engaging him in conversation with a big smile, was decidedly for Edward attending her school from the beginning.  Further meetings twice a week with Peter, his main teacher and the other teachers proved that the name fits the school.  Edward's teachers are excited about him being their, ready to give him accommodations such as having a scribe help him with his weekly tests, and even were excited to point out that he is making friends at the school.  Let's hope and pray that this spirit of love and welcoming for Edward continue at the school, but for now, it is so much more than had ever expected given other experiences with how people with disabilities are treated here in Mwanza.

Thank you all for your continued prayers.  I'll post a pic of Edward at his school on Monday when I go visit the school to bring an oversized adaptive keyboard that we got courtesy a Washington State University garage sale (during James's doctoral dissertation no less!).

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