Yvonne has recently returned from her second volunteering placement at Gede. Here are some of the things she told us.
On my first morning Ken (our local partner) took me to the school to meet the head and look around the new buildings – the school has expanded a lot since I was last there in 2014. Most of the staff were still there from my previous visit – it was lovely to see them again and they seemed pleased to see me too. As this is a special school some of the classes are for children with multiple physical handicaps and other classes are for the hearing impaired – I was assigned to Hearing Impaired Class 2, with Patience as the teacher – I remembered her well. Previously I had worked with teachers teaching older children but they were preparing for and taking mock exams – these are taken very seriously. The results of these exams dictate what is taught for the rest of the school year, to help children do the best they possibly can in the final end of year exams. Good exam results help build the children’s confidence and are used by the teachers to show parents that although their child may have a disability this does not mean they cannot succeed. One of the school’s mottos is ‘Disability is not Inability’, a very important message in a country where disabled children are regarded as a shame and are often abandoned.
Working with the deaf children is really good fun! Class sizes are very small so you can develop good relationships with the children and their teachers and do lots of one-to-one work – in the class I was assigned to there were only 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. Occasionally class 3 joined us for a lesson – that put the class size up to 8! I did lots of craft and practical activities to build on the syllabus-based work Patience wanted us to cover. Kenyan sign language is the children’s first language – it’s different to our sign language but is fairly easy to learn. The children enjoyed teaching me sign language and sometimes my hand really ached from where they tried to place it in the right position. Also, being deaf, they are used to using mime to make themselves understood, so if you’re at all dramatic it’s very easy to make yourself understood – I seem to be quite good at that! Anyway, there’s always a class teacher with you to translate, as long as you make sure to go at their pace. One thing to remember is that deaf children in Kenya are not taught Swahili – their second language right from the start is English as they’ll need this to be able to read and write, so if you write something up on the board most of them can understand. In fact I would say it’s just as easy to teach deaf children here as it is to teach in any other place where English is not the first language.
I did craft and practical work to build on their English, Religious Studies and Science work, I also helped with Maths. The boys were brighter than the girls so I tried to extend the boys’ maths while we waited for the girls to catch up. My calculator was a great success! They all loved the craft work. One of the girls has poor sight as well as being deaf (deafness is often caused by measles which can cause multiple sensory problems). Ideally she should have glasses but taking her to Mombasa to get her eyes tested would be a major expedition for her family. She quite liked trying on my glasses – when she found she couldn’t keep them she made herself a pair out of pipe-cleaners – not much good for improving her sight but she was proud of them! As part of a Science activity we grew cress – Patience was so pleased with this activity she came in to water the cress over the weekend. Then we made cress and egg sandwiches – they learned they must wash their hands before handling food (part of the health and hygiene topic) and were then thrilled to peel the eggs, an activity they had never done before! They made enough sandwiches for three classes and thoroughly enjoyed eating them! I took some story books out with me which we used in class and I then gave to Patience. She runs a small library from her classroom and is very keen to promote reading for pleasure, which is still an unusual concept in Africa. Children from the mainstream school also come to use the library at lunchtimes, a very useful way for me to catch up with pupils I remember from last time, and really nice to see that some children being taught in the special school 4 years ago have made enough progress to be in the mainstream school now.
I also spent a couple of days working with Pauline with one of the physically handicapped classes. I helped with story-telling and a number game I had brought with me from home. This was interesting and rewarding, though not where I felt I was most useful. The main aim with the most severely handicapped is to socialise them rather than educate them – in their local communities many of them get little attention and some have injuries such as severe burns where, as babies, they were left to crawl into the fire. The most amazing thing is how happy most of these children seem to be – some people may be scared that they cannot work with children with multiple disabilities, but there is always a class teacher there and they are really friendly loving children. Some of them are really bright – the best example of this is a boy with no legs – 4 years ago he was in one of the disabled classes but has now progressed to the main school. He has prosthetic legs but doesn’t like wearing them as they are uncomfortable – he prefers to scoot around on his stumps and can move faster than me! Every lunchtime he would come over from the mainstream school with different friend each day pushing him in a wheelchair so he could see me and introduce as many as possible of his friends to the English lady who had taught him four years ago!
They gave me a lovely party on my last day. Ken came, and so did the tuk-tuk driver who had driven me to and from school every day. Some people may feel Kenya is not a safe destination, but you are so well looked after here – the accommodation is fabulous and Ken is really supportive and goes out of his way to help – he even altered his leave so he was around all the time I was there and he organised a personal tuk-tuk driver for me who not only transported me to work but was also happy to take me wherever I wanted to go in my free time. He was really interested in what I was doing at the school, I taught him sign language on the way home from work, and when he came in to school on my last day he was flabbergasted by what the teachers are able to do with the children. In fact everyone at the hotel and in the local community asked me lots of questions about my volunteering work, so this project is a really good learning experience for local people as well. This really is a great place to volunteer!
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