Hope for their future

21 Nov 2013

Parents of 83 students at special school Yayasan Abdi Kasih (YADIKA) in Medan, Indonesia, now take comfort in knowing that their children will have a more conducive learning environment, as their teachers are equipped to tackle speech and behavioural challenges through SIF’s Speech and Occupational Therapy Training Project. - PHOTOS BY TED CHEN

“After hearing that there is a school in Medan focusing on children with special needs, I uprooted my family from another city to Martubung (Medan), just so I can enrol my daughter in YADIKA. She used to study at a regular school but that did not help her speech difficulties and she remained afraid of socialising with people. But now, she even performs at YADIKA’s year-end Christmas concerts … singing and dancing!” shares Ibu Tabitha Toisuta, 48, whose child has mild mental retardation.

Guru Bernadette Atminah and her student, one of the 83 from YADIKA special school who will benefit from enhanced teaching skills, through special education knowledge shared between Singapore specialist volunteers and YADIKA teachers.

Ibu Tabitha’s determination to give her child, 13-year-old Tirza Ambat, a shot at education is moving. I struck up a conversation with her after noticing her listening attentively to a lecture conducted by Singapore International Foundation (SIF) specialist volunteers for special education teachers in Medan. She was eager to pick up tips from the volunteers who are professional occupational therapists from Singapore, so she could apply the same therapy techniques at home.

The session is part of a two-year speech and occupational therapy training project SIF is implementing in collaboration with YADIKA. The aim is to enhance the knowledge and skills of its teachers, enabling them to apply strategies to overcome speech and behavioural difficulties in special needs students (such as those with autism, Down’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental retardation) and optimise their learning. Many autistic children, for example, have sensory processing difficulties and a little noise in their surroundings can trigger a huge reaction.

Speaking fondly of her daughter’s teacher or guru as she is affectionately referred to in Bahasa, Ibu Tabitha says, “Tirza has progressed much since attending YADIKA … she is able to speak clearly, has gained greater self-confidence and is happier in school. Most importantly, my communication with her at home has improved. I am grateful for Guru Bernadette. ”Bernadette Atminah, 44, is one of the 18 Indonesian teachers at YADIKA whom SIF is working with. Although she is an experienced special educator, she welcomes the opportunity to upgrade her skills. “Most of my students have dysfunctions that make it challenging for them to speak and communicate - motor speech problems, swallowing difficulties or excessive drooling. I have seen improvements after applying new speech strategies I learnt from the SIF volunteers. For example, one student can now pronounce ‘doctor’ correctly,” she says.

Singapore International Volunteer Wong Kee Woon and an Indonesian trainee demonstrate the use of a “weighted blanket”, an occupational therapy technique used to calm children with special needs and improve their attention and focus.

Special needs educators in Medan have fun while gaining new skills in speech and occupational therapy, shared by SIF’s specialist volunteers.

With a deeper understanding of her students’ learning needs, YADIKA teacher Rosalia Moza can now develop more appropriate learning methods for them.

Likewise for 33-year-old teacher, Rosalia Moza, being trained to handle difficult behaviours in the classroom means she can help her students learn in a more effective manner. A day after attending training conducted by the SIF volunteers, she was diligently trying out the occupational therapy techniques she learnt. I walked into a room full of large exercise balls and other colourful equipment and there she was, working patiently with each of her little charges.

Taking her attention away from them momentarily, Guru Rosalia, a mother-to-be herself, says, “They can be quite a handful sometimes and may not be able to concentrate long enough on a task. So these exercises that the volunteers showed us will be good for my students. It helps to calm them down and improves their attention span and motor skills.”

It wasn’t before long that the school bell for lunch rang and the children were running out faster than Rosalia and I could keep up with. As she helped them with their shoes, I caught a loving smile on her face, one that spoke of hope for their future.

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