This summer I led a team of four UK teachers to Soroti, Uganda to undertake three days of intensive special educational needs (SEN) training for teachers and playworkers from SEN settings across central Uganda.
As we approached the Global Care site (where The Ark is based) for the first day of training, I was full of excitement and apprehension. The UK team were ready, there was no doubt about that! They have years of training experience behind them and are experts in the material they were bringing to teach.
My fear was that the Ugandan trainees wouldn’t know how to respond to the material. Things like sensory massages for example. I’m sure it would be difficult to get a room full of respectable professionals anywhere in the world to lie down and be poked and prodded with feather dusters and spatulas. Cultural sensitivity on both sides would be needed if we were going to get anywhere with this, and make a success of the training which had taken over a year to plan.
Why did I doubt for one moment what God had in store for this trip?!
The trainees understood that this material had been tried and tested for years in the UK. To my amazement, they didn’t once question its legitimacy or place within their individual settings. They trusted the training and got stuck straight in. There were of course moments of hesitation and confusion, but with the help of David (Global Care’s co-manager in Soroti) everyone was up for trying something new, especially if they thought it might help the children in their settings. Even those who I thought would be hesitant let down their guard and stepped outside of their comfort zone, it was amazing to watch.
The training was a great success and we said goodbye to the staff with emotional hugs and congratulations. But in my eyes, unless we saw the trainees putting into practice what they had learnt, we hadn’t done what we set out to do. Part of the training included how individual activities can be used in different situations and what activities suited certain types of children. It was great to hear trainees describing children they know who would benefit from particular activities and learning how to “baseline” children to better understand what activities would suit them.
The next day we headed to Abekko Disability Support Group, a rural community-led playscheme for 125 children with disabilities from the neighbouring villages. To our delight, the volunteer playworkers had brought the resources with them on the back of their push-bikes and got started using them with the children (after lengthy formal introductions of course), all with no instruction from the UK team. The playworkers started asking if they were using the equipment right, sensory items such as bubbles and kitchen scourers. Children who lay motionless unable to interact, after a short amount of sensory stimulation we’re smiling, laughing, and reacting in all the ways that the material was designed for. Learning through play! It was wonderful to see these volunteers taking hold of what they’d been taught and running with it
My hope for all the settings that were represented at the training is they don’t use all the resources a little bit. Instead, I hope they love some of the resources a lot!
*Katie is a little girl who has been attending The Ark for 5 years now. Her mother has learning difficulties and her family life is painfully quiet as she receives little interaction with anyone at home. Katie is visually impaired and has severe autism. Up until recently she hadn’t been communicating with staff at The Ark and as a result she is often side-lined when other, more hyper-active, children grab the attention of the staff. If the training did nothing else, it has bought joy to Katie’s life! As the team taught The Ark staff how to interact with children like Katie using a resource called TAC-PAC, she quickly began to respond! With the right stimulation, this little girl who would sit shaking her head from side to side each day (stopping only to eat and bathe) is now experiencing joy, learning through play, and developing more and more each day!
Thank you UK team for your love for these vulnerable children that others would cast aside! Thank you trainees for your patience, love and care, day-in-day-out, and your willingness to learn for the benefit of the most vulnerable in your community! ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 40
Ella-Sophia Peaple, Donor Development Officer, Global Care