I spent the morning at the special needs school and the afternoon at the orphanage. Initially I had huge difficulty explaining what my role as an Occupational Therapist is and what I was there to do. The school English teacher was away for my first few days and very few other teachers had any understanding of English. Once the English teacher returned it made it much easier to explain exactly what I wanted to do.
I assisted children individually, and spent many hours with one girl who was blind. Due to having difficulty seeing, her teachers often excluded her from activities. So I spent a lot of time with her helping her to participate in the activities and educating her teachers about how they too can assist her to participate. Despite being blind she was very capable of completing all the set tasks she just needed some additional help and strategies.
I found working with her very rewarding and saw huge improvements in her English, writing, fine motor skills and communication. I also taught whole classes. I worked predominately on fine motor skills such as handwriting, cutting and gluing, creating many craft activities. I also worked on computer skills, eating, meal preparation, dressing and gross motor physical activity.
Eating was a difficult task for me to address initially as traditionally Sri Lankan’s eat with their fingers. I spent many hours with my friends and my host family learning the correct way to eat with my fingers so I could create some strategies for the children to learn this skill. The school has very little resources so I was required to buy all resources I needed. I spent a lot of extra money on having to buy scissors, glue, paper, pencils etc. I knew before I left they had limited resources but I was unaware of how much extra I would have to spend while away.
It was difficult for me to ever prepare activities for the following day as I was never given a timetable until the morning when I arrived. I asked many times to get a timetable the day before so I knew what I would be teaching and could properly prepare (all other teachers have a regular timetable so they can prepare their classes), however the new principal told me that it was too difficult because she organised my timetable around which teachers were absent for the day. I was therefore required to be very flexible, and able to quickly adapt from one class to another with little planning.
In the afternoons at the orphanage (care home) the children and adults just loved having me there. They waited at the gate for my arrival, they hugged me the whole time I was there and they loved getting involved in all the activities that I facilitated. In these sessions I focused on providing an activity to bring meaning and enjoyment into their lives. Most of the residents have no family that visits, so my presence there is all they needed.
At the orphanage there is a lady, Nadia, who is from Ireland who can speak English and translate it into Sinhala. She was unfortunately away for my whole 3 months except for my last week. Having her there made things much easier being able to translate the activities to the children or translate to me what they were saying.
The residents love art so most days we did colouring, drawing and painting, often having a dance or sing at the same time. I brought over many resources such as mosaics, dream catcher kits, friendship bracelet kits and other craft activities to go with the kids. I also took over bubbles and bouncy balls which they absolutely loved! The residents have very little possessions such as clothing as everything is donated. It was at times sad to see how excited the children were over “new clothes” which had been donated but were torn, dirty and had huge holes in them.
It was sad to watch one little boy sit at the gate all day, everyday, waving as the buses go by, as his mum visits every 4 months and comes by bus. He sits there all day every day waving at the buses hoping that she will get off and visit him.
I loved working there as I really felt valued. I could see how much it meant to the residents for me to come and how happy they were to see me every day, no matter what activity we did. I had organised to take the children to the beach on a Saturday, however I was unable to attend due to being sick. But Nadia took them along and I didn’t hear the end of it after that. They were so excited to get to leave the gates of the home and go on an adventure. They love the water and it would be fantastic to see them be able to go more often.
I built such strong rapport with each and every child and adult I worked with despite not being able to communicate in Sinhala. I taught many of them English words, and I learnt quite a few words in Sinhala over the 3 months I spent there.
This project provided me with many challenges, many unforgettable memories and has helped me to become a much better Occupational Therapist. I would highly recommend the project to anyone that has a strong interest in working with children and adults with disabilities. I will miss this project tremendously.
See project S8 Working in a Special Needs School and Care Home for more detail on this project