Sunday, October 14, 2007

I’ve moved houses to make way for two new male volunteers who were going to share my old three-bedroom house. Unfortunately, only one has come (hopefully the other will come in February). But I’ve still moved, and although I knew my old house was nice I didn’t quite realize how favourably it compared to most Adwa houses. Although there are a lot of new houses popping up as higher income people invest their money in real estate, their polished brick outsides often hide less perfect insides. Since many houses are rented out, they are not maintained in between tenants and often fall prey to pigeons, cockroaches and dust. Many contractors don’t know how to properly wire houses so there are often electrical problems, open holes with wires leading to nowhere, improperly sealed windows; difficult locks, weird water situations and whatnot.

My house problems seemed to come to a head last night when I had the new volunteer over for dinner. When the fuse finally blew, not to be flipped back on, I ended up having to cook by candlelight, which is one thing when you’re by yourself and don’t care what you eat, and another when you’re trying to impress someone with your cooking skills. On top of that, I had to ration my water because the taps run continuously and water leaks everywhere unless the outdoor main is turned off, which then means there is no water in the house. So I have to run back and forth turning the main on and off whenever I need to have a shower or wash dishes or boil water, and this is annoying to me and seems to be very unsettling to my new (and rather elderly) guard, so I try not to do it too often.

So I am sitting at home this morning waiting for my landlord to come and see what he can do. What is nice about this house is having my own space, having the doors and windows open and not having children careering through the house or people shouting at each other around me. It is nice to have a relaxing(ish) Sunday morning in your own house.

The Inclusive Kindergarten

The teacher and assistants have come a long way in the past few weeks, and the kindergarten is running with a degree of smoothness that you’d expect in October of Kindergarten! The teacher and assistants work so well together, and are really very keen and hardworking. In my mind, a big problem at many schools is that teachers just aren’t interested. They have too many other problems, both at home and at school. They see teaching as just a job and a paycheque, and are not concerned about the children in their classes as individuals. This then makes it hard for them to imagine supporting individual children, especially the struggling students, to meet their particular needs. They certainly struggle to see teaching as a learning process, where they themselves can reflect and gain strategies to support their students. This is a big generalization of course, and there are many really wonderful and caring teachers in the schools in Adwa and the rural areas. But what I am finding at the Kindergarten is that the teacher really is paying attention to the individual unique problems, and strengths, of the children – the mainstream children as well as those with special needs. I think the nature of the Kindergarten, the way we’ve set it up to support individual and group instruction, the frequent coaching that the teacher gets from me and the other steering committee members (if it’s not driving her crazy!) and the fact that there are three assistants - who not only share the load but share ideas as well – are all contributing factors, but definitely we’ve hired well - a teacher and assistants who all care about the kids and are keen to learn as well as teach!

The children are progressing well too. The boy who is developmentally delayed is beginning to interact with the other children and to cooperate with the teachers, although his behaviour is still one of the biggest problems in the kindergarten. His sister is getting along very well, and the regular tantrums have almost disappeared. The boy who is deaf and blind is still one of our biggest programming challenges, and probably always will be. Still, we are figuring out how to adapt to him, he has learned at least one sign, and he has finally managed to separate from his older brother (or his brother has managed to separate from him). It is interesting to watch as he explores new things and tries to focus on things with the little vision he has. The assistants (mostly Netsanet, the deaf assistant is with him) are great with him. We have a sand area in the playground, and the first time Netsanet took him there, his face lit up with the biggest smile and he jumped around for a long time, enjoying the feel of the sand on his bare feet and skin. Now he will make his way to the sand area on his own and take his shoes off and dive in, smiling. We still have a long way to go with him, but it’s really good to see him smiling and responding now, often using some kind of gesture rather than the crying moan that we heard so much at the beginning.

The children and families lined up to register outside the kindergarten have finally given up. The experience has educated me again as to how valuable free or lowcost kindergarten would be. This is especially so because here students don’t start grade one until they are seven years old, and because most parents have little idea of how to play with and teach their young children. Although I had thought that in Adwa all non-SNE children were attending school from grade one up, there were also lots of school-age children wanting to come to the kindergarten. There are also many more families with special needs children that have come out of the woodwork and approached the woreda about the kindergarten. We are full now (9 children with special needs and 21 children without), but hopefully we’ll be able to take them next year. It’s good that families are recognizing the importance of education for children with special needs: this is one of our goals.

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