Our team split into two groups after we arrived at Cheshire Homes. One group was performing hearing screenings and the other group performed an evaluation of the children’s speech. I was in the latter group and we prepared to evaluate the children’s speech and entertain them while they waited for their hearing screening. We sat waiting for what we thought would be the first two children we’d screen, but a huge horde of children came flowing into the room unexpectedly. At first all I saw were two children in a wheelchair with a boy behind them using the wheelchair as a walker. I was expecting the children to continue past our door, but the two children in the wheelchair slid off and used their arms to swing next to us and investigate all our toys. Within seconds, many more children came streaming into the room and sought out our attention. The children all had different disabilities and ways to get around and communicate, but two themes that were universal throughout the group was their craving for attention as well as their genuine smiles.
Even though these children had physical disabilities, nothing could hold them back. They were scampering across the room, chasing one another, wrestling, and doing basically everything else a normal child could do. I found myself not even noticing that they had a disability because of the ease they possessed while completing activities.
Later in the day, I switched to screening the children’s hearing and met an 18 year old girl who is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy. She stayed in the room to chat with us after we finished her screening and she immediately stole my heart in a way that no child has before. Unlike others that hold a place in my heart, she didn’t need to be helped. She was very independent and didn’t need to be coddled. All she needed was patience and conversation. Her speech was understandable, but not at all precise. She often needed to repeat what she said and a lot of guess work was needed to piece together her sentences. The hardest part of the day for me was not being able to understand what she said. There was one point in our conversation where I had no idea what she was trying to say. I asked her to repeat it and she patiently restated her sentence. Once more, I couldn’t pick out all the words, so I had to ask her to repeat what she said. I could see the frustration growing by looking at her face. She scrunched it up a bit more each time I had to ask her to repeat what she said. After the third time I asked her to repeat her sentence, she looked like she was going to abandon that train of thought, but remarkably someone else in the conversation pieced together what she said. Watching her frustration grow and knowing that my inability to understand her speech was the cause of it was extraordinarily difficult for me. I wanted to give her the tools she needed to communicate more effectively. That to me has been one of the hardest parts of this trip so far. I desperately want to give these children resources to aid their development, but the fact that I don’t have the time, tools, or funds to help them to the best of my ability is challenging for me. I know that we have all done the best that we can do within the restrictions we have, but at the same time I wish we could do more.
After the struggles of today, we were able to meet with our University of Zambia email buddies for pizza. It was a very relaxing way to end the day. They kindly all gave us Chitenges, a traditional African garment worn by women. We struggled tying to put the chitenges on, so our buddies had to teach us how to tie them. The night ended with many pictures filled with lots of laughter and amazing stories.