By Katie-Alana Schouten
Today we ran an After-school program collaborating with the Education students based on hygiene and hydration. We showed the children the technique of hand washing to the song of the Macarena. We were then challenged with the option of providing an education outlet for children with disability. Instead of focusing on the school system of education it was proposed to start a temporary program where we can act as aids for the children during the lessons.
I felt unsure at first because a temporary program can end very quickly in Malawi. I thought it wasn’t sustainable as in this area there may be no teachers or no teachers to care to follow up the education that has started for people with disabilities. I also deeply felt that I didn’t have the skills to support these children, to meet their ever- changing needs. I felt and feel inadequate in doing something from my own mind that I couldn’t witness and criticize. Becoming the do-er instead of the audience was really a threat in this instance.
The role of the nurse became so much clearer in such a short time. This outlet of education wasn’t only for these children, but for us too. I hope it allows us to be holistic and focus on all the person’s needs. From a quick visit to the community we had during the week I could already see the need for the children with disabilities to be happy and fulfilled in experiences. Instead here, they are forced to stay at home due to the discrimination they face in the schools and in the villages.
I had an experience as a student nurse in practice where I found it difficult to participate in real communication with clients. I was always better at writing and doing physical work than communicating properly. A senior nurse told me that I could get anyone to participate in anything if I did it with love and kindness. Likewise, if I communicated with kindness I could achieve anything. This means meeting peoples individual needs in their current situation.
I liked her advice.
For someone with intellectual disability it can be difficult for some children to interact and communicate as directly as we would and that’s where my love for this role comes from. Individuals with a disability teach us to listen, to care and have patience, which is so difficult for me to do. I remember in school always being taught and talked at. We never had a conversation with our educators and our opinion wasn’t allowed because of being incorrect to the textbook. This created tension in me as a person because I didn’t feel like I was being listened to or understood.
Having the opportunity to create a space where individuals can reach their own achievable potential in Chilanga is amazing. Being able to focus on ability rather than what the individual may not be able to do is life changing. In an ideal world it should be an aspect of all education and not just for our children with individual differences.
‘Education recognizes energy and potential within each person and each community, and tries to empower them to make their full contribution to the process of building a new society in which it is possible for all people to meet their fundamental human needs.’ (Hope,Timmel &Hodzi, 1984).
Hope, A., Timmel, S., & Hodzi, C. (1984) Training for transformation : A handbook for community workers. Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press.
By Katie-Alana Schouten
Something close to my heart is the affect learning about religion and education has had on me. Two things that are now incredibly important to me and make my life more worthwhile. In secondary school I didn’t apply myself to learning, I find it hard to regret it as at that time it was what I wanted to do and I think I didn’t have enough real life experiences to understand it was important. Moving to college though, whether I became better at listening or started caring less I can’t be certain. But seeing the affect one story has on you about a patient, as a nurse is profound. Both on what you’ve learned from it and how to apply it to the clinical field, and how it makes you feel spiritually.
However, little I got out of my education in school I learned in college education is the essence of a person, the beginning of being human and being it to the full (or so it is in my case anyway). Learning to think critically, to be objective and learning to not put something down just because you can is something I’ve come to feel, and not just have an awareness of. Presently I have never been more grateful for having an understanding of people I meet both as a nurse and as a stranger. Their own opinions and why they do what they do could be wrong to everybody but I have an ability to take aspects such as context into consideration and see both sides of it.
That’s why when we held a meeting for parents with intellectually and physically disabled children it really saddened me when one parent spoke of her young daughter who commenced school and was discriminated against by other pupils and was left on her own. Eventually she stopped going. I asked myself do we still live in that age?
If someone has a child with a disability in the region of Kasungu, neighbours in the village look down not only on the child, but also on the family. A child with a disability is seen as negative and a burden to the village. If the child is brought to church on Sunday here, other people in the village are afraid of, in the parent’s words, ‘getting the disability’. If a child with a disability starts school they can be subject to all types of abuse like emotional, mental and social abuse. Do we still live in this age in 2015?
I’m sad to say we’ve all been a part of this. I spoke to an elementary school teacher after the meeting with my friend. He declared that we all have disabilities and likewise we all have abilities, and we are all different. I was happy that the teacher had the same mindset my friend and I had.
I recall Martin Luther King Jr. stated something to the effect of – the one who turns their back on what they see is wrong is the same as the person doing wrong. Both as a student and a 20-year old girl who has faith, I get caught in what I should say to keep everything peaceful or what I can do to make things right. I can either learn from this or be ignorant.
On this journey and from this experience of meeting these parents I can ignore what society thinks or be a weaver of society.
I can be a sheep or a wolf.
I don’t want to be a sheep.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here