Today we were able to meet our email buddies from the University of Zambia (UNZA). Going into the meeting I was nervous because my buddy had only emailed me once; however, he was surprisingly talkative, kind, and happy to show off the beautiful campus. I was able to ask him questions about his major and the school, but he did not ask many questions about Purdue. The impression I got was that he was very concerned about presenting UNZA and Zambia in a beautiful, positive light. My buddy told me that Zambia has the resources and the money to do well and help people, but there is no initiative. That was hard for me to hear; however, hearing him share the many challenges he has faced in life, yet the joy he has, was very touching.
While there, we were also given a tour of one of the classrooms that the special education majors get to teach in for practice/experience. All of the children were autistic and ranged from age 5 to 15 (a huge surprise to me, since they all looked about the same age). The classroom was very busy and not under control, and for autistic children I have learned that it is helpful to have a quiet, settled environment. There were two children in the class that did not speak, but used gestures alone. I asked if they used pictures to communicate, but the sign we were directed to was up high and in a corner, which is not helpful to the children. The whole time I was wishing we had more time to work with the kids and teachers there to provide them with different alternative communication devices. We also were given a tour of the library, which was surprisingly similar to Purdue. There were many students studying for exams, it was quiet, and they all seemed very focused. As it has been this whole trip, we received many stares from the students and I did not know whether I should stare back, wave, smile, or just look down. In the States, when someone is staring at you and you catch them, they usually look away; however, in Zambia they just keep staring!
After leaving UNZA we headed to the Special Hope Network Resource Center for a second time. While there I was able to help with hearing screenings. The population here consisted of children with a variety of mental disabilities, yet they were paying for therapy unlike the children in the compounds. The parents and caregivers here asked so many questions about the equipment we were using and what it was testing. They wanted answers to be able to care for the children in the best way possible, which was refreshing after seeing so many parents not ask questions of the pediatrician at PCOE. I had the opportunity of screening some of the adult staff at Special Hope Network. Even they had concerns about whether the test or us looking in their ears would hurt. I expected fear from the kids, but not the adults, so I was shocked. Also, we were able to do a pure tone hearing test on some of the kids to find their threshold of hearing. These children had Down syndrome so we had to be very creative in order to get responses from them. Dr. Krishnan did a wonderful job and I realized how flexible one must be in this field. You never know what child or adult will walk through your door asking for help, and you may not have all of the tools necessary. We were able to have one boy use cotton balls and throw them to the ground every time he heard the “beep beep beep!” For one of the girls, though, we tried hand raising and throwing cotton balls, but her responses were not consistent. Finally, her father said he could just look at her face and eyes and tell us when she heard the tones. It was amazing to see her small little head turns, smirks, and watch her eyes get bigger as she reacted to the tones. Her father was so sweet and knew his daughter extremely well. It was touching to see such love.
After screenings we had the privilege of participating in circle time so that the staff could ask us questions about anything. Mr. Nelson, one of the founders of Special Hope Network, asked them to find out how to best serve the children at the center – he wants them to learn and grow despite their disabilities. They all wanted to know how the ear and hearing in general worked. Many of them were unfamiliar with the basics of the ear that I had grown up learning. A common question was about ear wax, where it came from, is it bad or good, what if there is too much, etc. Other questions were personal concerns that they had about their own hearing and ears. One man was trying to explain to us that when he closed his nose and mouth and blew out that air came out of his ears! It was quite funny and we attempted to explain that that cannot happen, but he was convinced of this supernatural power.
Overall, the people working at Special Hope Network are truly special, gifted, and loving people. Their hearts are so full of a desire to serve children that are otherwise cast aside. They want to give hope to a hopeless population and they are succeeding! The Nelsons, their staff, and the children there have touched my heart in new ways. Prior to this trip I had not had much interaction with children who had disabilities, but now I see these kids with such joy in their hearts and it is infectious!