Another week in the field with the Education, Equity, Empowerment (EEE) project in Musanze

We have planned 4 more days to catch up with the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) who failed to show up at previous visits. We will now focus on our target group: young people under 25 with hearing and / or communication impairments who should have access to mainstream education close to their homes. In November, during the school holidays we will start training the teachers on inclusive education and how to take care of the special needs of these young people, so we have to know which of the many schools in the district should be invited.

I team up with Félicien Turatsinze, a physiotherapist whom we are training to assess and handle communication disorders, as Rwandaat the moment only has one trained speech and language therapist! In the 3 months since he joined the EEE project, he has developed to the level where he is now able to do assessments independently. We discuss the diagnosis he proposes and how to counsel the families, in which task he is also growing by the day. Félicien has a very gentle way of connecting to people and sometimes our ‘clients’ leave in tears because they have enjoyed so much the way the child was seen for his abilities and who he is rather than as the ‘burden’ people don’t know how to handle.

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We identify some persons who need to have their hearing tested, to see if a loss causes the speech impairment and again we meet persons who stutter and left school because the teachers failed to recognize they had a speech problem and not a learning disorder. Bullying happens everywhere and persons with disabilities face a lot of it at all levels in the community; unfortunately, for persons who stutter it considerably aggravates their difficulties. For children with this type of impairment the project can have a huge impact.

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Some of the persons we meet have impairments that are too complicated to handle in mainstream education, like those who have a moderate/severe intellectual impairment. Eventually they should of course also be included, but since inclusion is something totally new to the teachers, we will start with students who are a little bit easier to manage in the classroom. As families have often walked a long distance to reach us, we never send them back with only the message that the child does not belong to our target group. Every child is assessed and their families are given advise on how to improve their communication skills. On Thursday we suddenly had 3 young persons with Down syndrome at the same time and decided to counsel them and their families together. It was the first time that both the parents and the children themselves saw someone else who looks like them and has the same condition. It actually happens that all 3 families have done so well at helping these youngsters be independent (self-care, assist in household chores) that we would love to organize a day where families and their children with Down syndrome can meet, inspire and learn from each other. Unfortunately these activities are beyond the scope of the project. One of the three enjoyed the meeting with his ‘fellows in distress’ so much that he preferred to leave with one of the others rather than going home with his mum!

It was again a week filled with amazing encounters with ‘mothers’ who are not related to the child with a disability but started taking care of one where all others had left the child. A community activity where secondary school students presented songs and poems they had composed themselves to get attention for the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. Parents who walk for hours with a heavy child on their back, hoping to find assistance in their task as educators of a persons with disabilities that were never really explained to them. I am honoured to be part of this project!

Segerien Donner, speech therapist in Rwanda

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