Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ministry of Education and ZAMESIE interest in College of Direct Support and Teacher Training Program

There remains strong interest in the development of improved special education teacher training throughout the country of Zambia. The resources and instructional curriculum used in the special education programs is far from current. Teachers receives little if any continuing education and their focus within special education remains on reading, writing and math. The concept of functional skill and life skill development is not prevalent.

We have offered the College of Direct Support curriculum and offered to seek grant funding to improve educational opportunities for teachers and assistant teachers. The Ministry of Education in Lusaka which is the only registry for teachers in Zambia continues to express interest in a partnership and moving teacher training forward in Zambia. There is a new person in leadership at the Ministry in Lusaka and I do feel hopeful that he can leverage the needed political will to get this moving forward.

Each trip the connectivity to the internet is improved and there are certainly places for availability. Developing labs and seeking resources to pay for access remains a barrier but one worth tackling.

There were no electricity outages the entire two weeks that we were int he country. This too is a vast improvement over previous visits.

Another Day in Zambia

On the scheduled day of our departure the stars simply were not aligned. The bus driver never arrived to pick us up to take us to the airport (later we found out he had a flat tire), Mikala really wanted us to stop by ZAMESIE (the special education training college), traffic was awful, we were stopped three time by road blocks and when we finally arrived at the airport there was a problem with our tickets (ticket numbers had changed and Kenyan Air did not seem to know this). The employees at Kenyan Air told us we had to leave the airport and go downtown to their offices in Lusaka. Needless to say they were not helpful at all. I was on the phone with Delta airlines over 2.5 hours trying to figure out a solution. Initially we were not going to get out until the 18th of April and it was going to cost each of us an addition $2,800. In the end we are leaving one day later, arrive home one day later and it cost $62.50 each.

The good news is that it was one more day in Zambia with Mikala and her family. Jean got her giant avocados for dinner and I got a few more bananas. Most importantly we got to listen to many more stories from Mikala and learned more about Zambian traditions and various tribal similarities and differences. I slept better then I have the entire two weeks and Jean is getting some needed rest as she has developed a full fledged crud in her chest type of cold (seems it has been passed around here for the past few weeks and Kelly, Jean and I were unable to escape it).

It is 7:15am on Wednesday April 13th and the driver has already arrived. Everyone here felt terrible we were not able to get out yesterday. The driver has arrived about 3 hours before we asked him to so that he ensures we are there on time. That just seems to be a way here – putting concerns of others first and praising God for it.

I am sure we will have a safe journey home. As always I have learned more then I could have possible taught. I look forward to the next journey here and to on-going relationships with my colleagues in Zambia.

Strong Community Abounds

One of the greatest joys I get when I come to Zambia is this immediate awareness of community in this country. Parents help all children (not just their own). Children have so much more freedom at very young ages to roam their neighborhoods and adults (really any adult) will reprimand and redirect the children. If a mother sees a child crying she does not hesitate to ask the parent what is wrong and to offer advise. This is accepted and people do not seem to get offended or to think others are butting into their business. The children seem to have a general understanding that they should listen to adults and respect them.

Most Zambians seem to understand the need for sustainability and helping out their friends and families. “Buying local” is not a concept that has to be taught here, it is a way of life. Tradition is that if family shows up at your door (cousins, in laws anyone) they do not have to call first, ask permission, they show up and you take care of their needs until they leave.
On our way to Chwama we were in our van and a huge truck hauling cartons of something cut across the main road and into our side of the road and across three lanes of traffic; it then lost control and quickly went back across the three lanes of traffic. It nearly collided with a public mini bus (blue/white 12 passenger vans that are used as public transport). Of course the mini bus and other honked their horns. Then as if it were organized they caught up with the driver of the truck and got on three sides (front, back and side) and forced it off the road. Then they awaited the police. The truck driver was obviously drunk and these other members of the community took it upon them selves to get him off the road in a strategic yet peaceful way.

Neighbors all know neighbors here and they look out for one another. Workers care about one another and the health and well-being of their families. Churches are strong places of counsel and networking and entertainment. They also play significant roles in social welfare and establishing community norms.

Staple Foods

The Zambian people definitely have staple foods that they eat every day. Nshima is the main staple. It is ground maize that is cooked very thick. The ground is larger then grits. The consistency between that of grits and polenta. It is white in color and the Zambian people eat this at least twice a day. They mold it in their hands and use it to sop up the juice and contents of another staple called relish. This relish is what I would describe as stewed vegetables. It usually has a green, tomatoes and onions in it and then a sauce. It is one of their primary sources of vegetables. Beans are another commonly eaten food. One of my favorite food items here is something called ground nuts. They obviously by their name are grown in the ground and look like peanuts but they have a much milder flavor and are roasted in a skillet on the stove or a fire. Eggs, bananas (the best in the world) and tea are also very common foods. Of course at the supermarkets one can find most anything.

As an indication of the rapid globalization and commercialism in this country in the past two years what was a small strip mall at Manda Hill is now a two story full fledged inside mall, there is a Subway, KFC and a McDonalds (UGH!).

Micro Enterprises Galore

The first time I visited Zambia I was struck by the people with disabilities that I saw with their own “shops.” A way of life in Zambia is to sell goods in your neighborhood or along the side of the road. You see these selling stands nearly everywhere. I have seen several people with disabilities selling their own goods.
There is a pervasive lack of transition planning and programs in Zambia. We spent a great deal of time talking with policy makers about this need. Yet at the same time families and neighbors understand that if people with disabilities can be taught to make and sell something or to sell fruits and vegetables they can make a living. Mikala was sharing how they had at one time tried to teach a few children how to make sunflower oil by pressing seeds (sunflower oil is their stable cooking oil). While this effort in the end failed because it took so long for the children to hand press oil, it is such an indication of the creative thought yet simple idea to promote self-reliability and sustainability for people with disabilities as they grow older.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Home Visits in Baulini Compound and Kabannana Compound

What a busy day. We did home visits in Baulini and at Kabannana Compounds for children who receive home based education. These children are deemed not ready for school and therefore receive one home visit a week in which a teacher, physio or assistant teacher (direct support professional) works with the family to implement educational programs. It was interesting to interact with the children and their families. Here is a glimpse of our learning:

Veronica (age 12 - though she looked to be about 6 or 7)- Veronica was outside of her home when we arrived. She is unable to walk on her feet though she seems to get around fine on her knees. She was able to make sounds and could say a few words. Her teacher had a bag with her with a puzzle and some books in it. Veronica's eyes lit up when she saw this. It was so clear that veronica was eager to learn. She used to attend Baulini school and also received physical therapy once a week. Unfortunately she no longer able to go to school or therapy because she has gotten too big for her friends to carry her a mile to school each day. Veronica's mother works and is a single parent so Veronica now stays home alone each day with only the supervision of younger children in the compound and neighbors. If she had a wheel chair she'd be able to find a friend to push her to/from school. A Zambian made wheelchair costs about 1.8 million Kwatcha or approximately $400. This is what prevents her from the opportunity to learn at Baulini.

Muika (age 1.8 years)-
This was wonderful to observe. This little boy is one of a few who receive early intervention services in Zambia. This is not common. Children attend school beginning at age 7 and very very few go to any type of pre-school program. Muika has cerebral palsy which was diagnosed shortly after his birth. He had a specialized chair made out of paper that enabled him to sit up. These chairs are often the result of an identified need by a physical therapist. Muika was not impressed with the white strangers in his home and he let us know that right quickly so we left shortly after meeting him.

Abraham (age 8 though he looked about age 3-4). Abraham was a young boy who lived with his father. His mother died this winter of AIDs and he is now cared for by his sisters and father. He was extremely small for his age and had cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He was not receiving special education because he was not thought to be ready and there was little opportunity to get him there because of the long walk and lack of wheel chair.

Sylvia (age 2) When I saw Sylvia I was pleased to see that she seemed to be about the appropriate size for her age. Every other child I had seen on this day and others appeared to be about half the size I would expect for their developmental age. I was also so excited to see another child receiving home based education who was under the age of 7. It leaves me with such hope that the Ministry of Education and the Disability Service Organizations are beginning to understand the importance of early intervention for children with disabilities. From her appearance I would guess that Sylvia has Cornelia De Lange Syndrome. No one who was with us, teachers, physical therapists (physios), administrators knew what this disorder was. Sylvia appeared to be having many seizures while we were in her home, she appear to having a hearing problem, was pretty floppy and had microcephaly. At the end of the day I was able to get access to the internet and sent Mikala some information on Cornelia De Lange Syndrome. I am also hopeful that Syvia will be able to get medications for her seizures (Baulini has a program commitment to providing seizure medication).

We met and heard so many stories about children and adults with untreated seizures. One little boy was left at home alone while his parents were working and he had a seizure and fell into the fire and was severely burned all over his face. A friend of Mikala’s at church was kicked out of school at grade 7 because the teachers and children ran away when she had a seizure because they thought she was possessed – this woman never married and has been an outcast every since. Mikala says she is such a smart woman and her educational opportunities were squashed due to her seizure disorder.

Bruce (age 16) was at home with his older brother. He has received home based education for some time. Though not diagnosed, it was clear that Bruce had autism disorder. He was not in school because of his difficulty focusing on learning and his repetitive behaviors which sometime result in others being hit. His teacher began their lesson plan and Bruce was currently working on trying to hold a pencil and write a line within a picture. This seemed like an almost irrelevant thing to be teaching Bruce at the moment. There was so much need in the areas of communication, social interaction and life skills that needed attention. Not to mention increasing Bruce's ability to be interested in learning new things. The concepts of applied behavioral analysis and augmentative communication just are not known to the teachers. There is so much need to reform and build improved special education services here. Bruce could thrive with the right help.

(Boy age 7) This little boy we met was not yet in home based education. He was being screened and was meeting his teacher for the first time. He lived with his grandmother. His mother was a school teacher and had been assigned by the Ministry of Education to teach at a school some 400 km away. Because she was a new teacher she had to go to her assigned post and could not yet ask for a transfer. She had no one to care for her son when she was away teaching. Therefore it was left up to the grandmother to provide care. She used to carry him on her back to the physio clinic which was a very long walk and then bus ride. The grandmother was recently diagnosed with a heart condition and was simply unable to carry this boy on her back any longer. This is why he was being referred for home based education. One interesting aspect of this initial meeting (we’d call it an intake) was the description of the home based program and the very strong emphasis placed on the role of the family to provide education and support 6/7 days a week with the home based educator only there one day a week. The family was asked to commit several times to this program and to their role in the program.

Will post photos soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday at the Reformed Church in Zambia

This morning Kelly and I went with Mikala again to her church service. This time we arrived on time and stayed the entire 3 hour service. While we could not understand the reverend it was fun to watch the children and women throughout the service. As always the music was spectacular. Kelly and I were introduced with other visitors and were mistaken for Catholic Sisters since we were visiting Mikala at Baulini Street Kids which is a Catholic supported program. The children loved the balloons and silly bands we brought for them after the service. An afternoon at the markets and then home for another meeting with the Ministry of Education who is very interested in trying to get a new college program going in Zambia for special education teachers. Time will tell, there is certainly great need.