We started off our last Wednesday here in Zambia with an all day visit to Cheshire Homes, a rehabilitation center and school for kids with physical disabilities. Emmie picked us up at around 8:30 from the guest house, and we were all ready to conquer the day not knowing what we had in store for us, which is a feeling all too familiar to the SLHS team here. When we arrived at Cheshire Homes, we all gathered, staff and children included, into a small room where we were greeted with the most wonderful and welcoming song sung by every single child there. This was the first time we saw all the children, and I was definitely surprised at the range disabilities that I saw. Some kids were in wheelchairs, some were shuffling and crawling on the floor to move around, and some had normal motor skills but maybe an intellectual delay. The range of disability was a mile wide, and I knew that I should expect the unexpected at that point.
From that initial meeting, I went and I screened about eight children’s hearing, which was a task all it itself. First we marched down the hill to get two children, then rolled their wheelchairs up the rocky and bumpy driveway, up the incline and into Sister Marjorie’s office. Then we could begin testing. We conditioned the kids once again to play the ‘high five game” and testing went pretty smoothly from that point. The real challenge was getting from one place to the other due to some of the children’s disabilities, but the children never complained and were extremely independent when doing so. After I was done testing, I was transferred to the therapy rooms where I really got to interact with all of the kids there.
Getting to know all of the kids was by far the best experience of the day. Some kids had cerebral palsy, an amputated leg, other structural abnormalities, or cognitive disabilities. This made the day even more of a learning experience because I got to discover so much about these specific disabilities and really got the chance to work hands on with theses kids. I would say that the best part of the day was communicating with each child I encountered. This could at first be quite challenging due to their particular disability. Each child had his or her own unique way of communicating, and once I figured that out and got the hang of it the conversation was great! I was able to play and interact with the child using their self-made language like nothing was wrong at all.
This day at Cheshire Homes network made me realize a couple of things. First of all, it made me realize just how lucky each and everyone of us are to be born without the types of disabilities that these kids struggle with on a day-to-day basis. I have never really worked so closely with disabled kids, and I can now say that I will never again take for granted the things I’ve been so fortunate to have like a functioning pair of legs. Second, the children at Cheshire Homes had such a positive and inspiring outlook on their disability, and carried on their day like they could do anything in the world, which was very refreshing to see. The staff as well promoted this attitude well too. An example that stuck out to me was a song the children and staff sang that said, “Although you may not have an arm or a leg, God always leaves you with something special.” This message of self-esteem and confidence was very widespread within the whole Cheshire Home organization, and I think that’s extremely important. Cheshire Homes is a fantastic and supportive place for these children to embrace who they are with and without their disability. Lastly, working so closely with children with disabilities really stuck with me. I had such a great time interacting with them, that I could see myself later in life becoming very passionate and directing my career toward working with disabled children. We have so much to learn from then, and it was nothing but a rewarding experience getting to know and learn about each and every child there.