Today, our host mother kindly brought us to her workplace where she works as the director of Malaika Sale, a school for children with Trisomy 21 and Cerebral Palsy. We had planned for this visit far in advance so that Mahisha and I could visit the school on our rest day. Finally the day arrived, and I wasn’t sure what to expect; all I knew was that I felt both very nervous and excited.
We entered the school through the teacher’s entrance at the back of the building. As soon as we walked through the rusted doors, I saw the beautiful green garden that the children had planted. We then walked across the bright, open courtyard, to arrive at our host mom’s office. It was a clean, cozy room, decorated with cards, paintings, and crafts made by students. She then showed us pictures of all the students at Malaika –thirty-eight beautiful smiling faces in total.
At 9am, the students entered through the big doors at the front of the courtyard. Some of them were shy, and others were outgoing. Some were running excitedly through the doors, whereas others were grumpily slugging across the courtyard. Regardless, many of these students came over to where Mahisha, our host mom, and I were standing to greet us and give us kisses on the cheek. Even though the students only speak Diriga or demonstrate minimal oral communication, they made efforts to welcome us to their school, which was incredibly heart-warming.
We then had the opportunity to join the students for class. In one of the classrooms, I watched the students go over colours, numbers, dates, and writing their own names. In another classroom, I watched students with cerebral palsy learn to write by rearranging puzzle pieces to spell out certain words. In both classrooms, I saw the students encouraging and helping one another to succeed in their tasks. In fact, when one of the boys were rearranging numbers 1 through 20, he had to double check with his friend to make sure 14 came after 13, even though I confirmed that it did! I was very impressed with the strong friendships these students had developed between one another, and the community that they had created among themselves. During recess, I even saw all the children playing together (except for one little girl who was really tired, but Mahisha and I kept her company).
Although it was exciting to see all that was being done at Malaika, I learned that there are also limitations to the program, largely due to the lack of funding. Our host mother told us that at the start of the year, there had initially been forty students. However, due to the lack of transportation services, two students could no longer continue their education at the school because they could not afford to come to school every day. Moreover, when I asked what happens to the students after they graduate, my host mother explained with a heavy heart that continued education beyond Malaika currently does not exist for these children. It was heartbreaking to learn that this wonderful community may not be sustained in the lives of the students beyond a certain age.
However, I recognize that change occurs in small steps. The establishment of Malaika itself is fairly new, and what they have done since its inception is truly inspiring. I believe that their accomplishments thus far are strong predictors of the immense positive impact they will continue to make in the future. Seeing my host-mother, teachers, and other staff members work so hard to provide the best education, support, and love for these children, makes me feel confident that this program will continue to grow and change the lives of many students for the years to come.