Today was our day at Cheshire Homes, a non-profit organization that works wirh children with physical disabilities. We left the lodge at 8:30am after eating bread (no toaster), and unfortunately the watermelon that we cut looked red and good but was mushy and spoiled 🙂 – so we started with a slight disappointment at breakfast.
We got to Kabulonga quickly and Sr. Marjorie was in her office. She was so sweet and greeted Jenn and me like old friends! She had arranged for all the children to be in the physiotherapy wing for us and had a sign on the door about our visit and asking anyone in need to be there for the free screening!
She also offered her office to do the hearing screenings and asked if that was quiet enough! This was the quietest room we have had by far during our entire stay in Zambia!! We asked to meet the students and staff to introduce ourselves – so we all crowded into one of the physiotherapy rooms and introduced ourselves. There were 4 special education teachers, and there are 4 nuns at the convent (one being Sr. Ornela the physician at UTH) there as well as several novices. I counted about 30 children seated on the floor. And then – what a surprise we had! At a small cue from Sr. Marjorie, the children all broke into a welcome song for us! They sounded great and it was such a wonderful welcome for us!
We then set up for the screenings in Sr. Marjorie’s office, which was quite a distance from the physiotherapy room. We decided to take the kids there two by two and Jenn and I started with the first two. So – the kids scooted out of the room, pointed at the wheelchair which was theirs, hopped into the chairs and we wheeled them to the office. It was a very bumpy ride over rocks and such but the kids seemed used to it. So for the entire morning, student pairs and I walked back and forth between the office and physiotherapy room taking kids two by two, some in wheelchairs, some mobile on their own. We completed 17 screenings – because the transport between the rooms was slow going.
In the mean time the other students were in groups doing other activities. Some were in the physiotherapy rooms playing with the kids, others were holding a sign language class for staff and students, and some were also involved in a music activity.
We stopped for lunch at about noon and saw all the kids transported to the lunch area; we had our lunch as a picnic on the well-kept lawn.
After lunch we decided to add another screening station in the physiotherapy room in order to be more efficient. So I was in there after lunch and saw how rambunctious the kids were – despite their limitations in mobility, the little boys were roughhousing each other and having a grand time! During the afternoon screenings I heard more songs from the kids – they do really sound very good! I learned that they have practice daily and sing at the Saturday mass every week! The students again participated in screenings as well as activities with the kids and also observed a little physiotherapy. In all we screened 39 children by 3:45 pm, and it was once again a very good experience and show of teamwork and flexibility. Although we had expected to see children with physical disabilities, we were surprised to also see children with cognitive delays. Yet, all were screened appropriately and as the day went on the students got more and more comfortable interacting with the children.
At the end of the day the kids also sang us a “thank you” song – it was very touching and humbling to have spent a day with these brave children and the wonderful people who work with them everyday to improve their lives!
After a brief rest at the lodge we went to the Manda Hill Mall to meet our UNZA student buddies – this time we had set a meeting location and did not miss each other thankfully! So 12 Purdue students and 12 UNZA students sat at the Pizza Inn and ate pizza and appeared to have a great time getting to know each other better! Jenn and I had our third dinner at the place called “Curry in a Hurry” and then went for our final grocery shopping during this trip!
When it was time to leave at 8pm, the students clearly did not want to and then another wonderful surprise! The UNZA students had brought each of us a local Zambian chitenge! We all wore our chitenges and some of the guys were showing the girls how to wear it – it was wonderful to see the students from two different continents getting along so well!
On the way back to the lodge, the bus was at its noisiest level ever with all the students excitedly talking about the evening with their Zambian buddies!
Tonight’s de-briefing session included as always many thoughtful comments from the students. For me this has been one of the best components of the program – to listen to the students reflect after each day, to hear their insightful comments, and to really see how this program appears to have opened their eyes has been so rewarding. Tonight’s discussion included:
- It was not an easy day today, but it was really fun!
- They enjoyed the personal time with the kids for the whole day
- They enjoyed the different activities throughout the day
- Again, they had a great deal of difficulty understanding some of the kids, but today they said they tried to use context cues to figure out what was said, or tried to get the child to point to what they were saying if they did not understand
- They noted that despite some of the severe physical disabilities, many of the kids were not cognitively impaired; therefore it was important not to assume that the children could not understand them
- They described how they were able to talk to a 17-year old girl as they would to any teenager: about music, boys etc.
- They commented on how there were a range of kids today: from kids with normal intelligence and severe physical disabilities to those with both physical and intellectual disabilities, and admired the people (teachers and others) who work with these children daily
- They acknowledged that at times it was overwhelming because it was difficult to know how to keep working with the kids for an extended period of time
- They saw that because the kids were at very different levels intellectually it was difficult to have activities appropriate for all of them; although as the day wore on and they got to know the kids they were better able to select more appropriate activities
- They appreciated words that one of the sisters (a physiotherapist) said: that each kid has a disability, but each also has a special talent even if it is something as simple as a great smile
- They commented on the advantages of the environment where the kids were with other kids with similar disabilities and had a community and that they seemed to motivate each other
- They commented on how the kids helped each other! We saw kids who were somewhat mobile, pushing others in wheelchairs, using the wheelchair pretty much as a walker for themselves while pushing their buddy along
- They also learned from the physiotherapists not to help the kids too much because these activities help the kids not only improve their physical abilities but also their independence
- They commented on some of the songs the children sang and how they were about self esteem
- They discussed how frustrating it must be for some of the non-verbal kids who understood them but could not communicate and how may benefit from simple communication boards – and maybe we should bring some such boards or help Cheshire Homes make personalized communication boards for the kids who need them
- They said they were able to be more assertive with the kids (after yesterday’s chaotic day where they had to control kids!)
Regarding the UNZA student meeting they enjoyed learning about the cultural differences
- Before a wedding, brides may have their mothers choose ladies to teach them how to be a wife
- Men pay the bride’s family for their wife; if there is a divorce, they have to pay the money back
- Child marriages still occur
- Men often marry women 10 years younger than them
- At funerals, all the furniture is moved out of the house; the men sit outside while the women sit inside
- There are no nursing homes because families take care of the elders
- Most Zambians know several languages (we discussed how this is typical in many parts of the world and the US is somewhat unique in being such a strong single language country)
Final important thoughts included that poverty in Zambia is at a very different level than poverty in the US, that all Americans should see life in another country such as Zambia, and that although there is poverty in Zambia they are rich in many other aspects.
Another productive day in which we all learned a lot!