This post is by Rosetta Rocco, an alumnus of the School of Disability Studies who spent a year living and working in Mozambique.
There is no second guessing that children are way more intelligent than adults. It is when adults grow up and conform to society is when they become ignorant to the importance of innocence and how much wisdom it can grasp. There is no suppression in a child’s intuition, there is no second guessing about what they feel unless an adult tells them “to put their tears way.” All children are miracles and all children can teach us many lessons on how to act, behave, learn, explore, communicate and play. We teach that manners, playing and sharing is important at such a young age but the minute we grow up we live in a Darwin world that only the strong and white able bodies can survive. I never played into that theory nor I have I ever preached it. A new thing is happening in the world a new energy that instils interconnectedness and unity. Many theorists believe we are born with the traits of love and compassion and violence and aggression is something we are taught. All you have to do to know that this is in fact true is work with children or be around children on a daily basis and just listen and pay attention to them. We are born with an innocence and a wisdom that goes away eventually and then comes back when we are re-evaluating our lives and majority of times this evaluation only seems to happen when we become ill or at the end of our lives. In fact, all children teach us how to live in the moment and how to never forget how beautiful life can really be. I have had the honour of receiving one of life’s best gifts. I work with children and I am really good at it, I have worked with ALL children and children with special needs for the last 20 years. Last year I also had the privilege of working with children in Mozambique, Africa. I lived there for 1 year and I stayed in the city and province of Maputo. I was prompted before I arrived in regards to the project I was going to work on during my stay there. I was going to be the program lead with university students that just graduated, to work with different orphanages in different provinces around Mozambique. I was to help train the people that work with orphans on how to work with children and to write and create manuals on what is developmentally appropriate skills and activities to teach etc. Well, when I arrived the funding was pulled from under our feet and the results of the project, and manuals were still to be written. Shortly there after I realized allot of things, like funding for special projects were corrupted and taken advantage of other “special projects.” It was disheartening but I moved on and found other projects very quickly that I could be part of helping children and families. Although, nothing prepared me for the conditions that most children live in, in developing countries. There are so many children everywhere, in schools, on the streets in orphanages etc. All these environments are downtrodden, nothing you can even imagine only if you see it with your own eyes. Most schools unless private, or American and European schools are falling apart, broken windows, hardly no materials and teachers are paid about $2.00 per day. Beating or mistreating children is an acceptable discipline if not promoted form of discipline in schools and at homes. It is noted throughout research findings that street have children explained that the streets are much better place to live than their homes because they can’t handle the beatings and orphanages are a much better place to live at because at least there are toys and food available there. When I first arrived and saw homeless children (homeless there means you sleep and live in a bush) sleeping under a tree no shoes and torn clothes, and haven’t had a meal in a week, I could not sleep for a week. The extreme poverty that majority of children live in, was one of the hardest things to adjust too. Of course when you would buy children shoes or give them pens and books majority of the time they would sell them for money and to eat.
My first encounter with children was volunteering at a private child care centre and that is where I met Alana. Alana was the only Occupational Therapist and Behaviour Therapist in all of Maputo. She was from Portugal and she studied there too. Alana was very busy she worked in all different types of environments, child cares, schools, and at homes with children with special needs. I began to follow Alana around and shadow her for the next few weeks. Alana was great at what she did and she did obtain positive results with the children and advocated for children with special needs however even she was a bit back-dated when it came to the mythologies of children with special needs. I learned very quickly that Mozambique was about 400 years back when it came to the treatment and care for children with special needs. However, it did seem like if you did have money and you wanted your child with special needs to attend a childcare system you could hire Alana and she did her best to integrate and include children. Alana had staff working for her and she pulled out children from the classrooms and did Applied Behaviour Analysis and Speech and Language exercises with the children for about 1 to 2 hours a day and then would try and implement strategies and recommendations in the classrooms with the teachers. Alana seemed too advanced for any teachers there because it seemed like they kept ignoring Alana’s recommendations and kept ignoring the children who needed some help. The diagnosis were non-existent in Mozambique and any type of Dr., diagnosis or medical help a child needed was to be directed and to be seen in South Africa.
So Alana kept asking for some help at a school for children with special needs and she wanted me to help her to recruit money, Dr’s, students and volunteers. Alana kept reiterating that the student will be taken care of with transportation to and from the school and the meals of the day will also be provided. I decided to visit the children and school with her for 1 full day and see if I could volunteer myself there. What I saw was horrible, due to Alana’s advocacy and struggle to make things better apparently there has been quite allot of improvements. It was a school house for children and youth of all ages with special needs amalgamated together. The ages ranged from 2 years of age to 16 years of ages and there were children who appeared to have down syndrome, physical disabilities (no wheelchair in sight in Mozambique) autism, speech and language delay, visually impaired etc. The classrooms were of all mixed ages and the school was barren, there was no toys, no activities, and hardly no materials etc. Many schools in Mozambique did not have many books and pens and many kids wrote on the walls or sand to do their homework. This special school had chalk, very few learning materials and fortunately catered food for the staff and children. At around 10:00am the children were let out the back to play, a recess/break time. There was nothing no toys or equipment for the children to play with, no games to participate in , no signing or dancing (everyone in Moz is born to sing, dance and taught how to play an instrument). The group was left to wander aimlessly around for a 20 min break, what turned out to be 1 hour. Of course inappropriate behaviours began and the same children were shunned from the group because they are “bad.” I then met Lucia a 16 year old Mozambican girl who was labelled autistic. Lucia was seeing Alana for about 2 years and doing ABA therapy. Alana was very proud of Lucia because her aggression was almost completely gone and she had allot more speech and vocabulary. Alana then explained to meet that Lucia is beginning to enter an inclusive setting 2 times a week. Alana has convinced the parents and the director of the private child care for children (from 2 to 6 years of age) to have Lucia attend classes there. Lucia was talked to and treated like a baby, therefore she acted like a baby by screaming and shouting when she was scolded for doing something very minimal, incorrectly.
Next child we were worked with was a little girl about 7 years of age who was visually impaired, her name was Paula. Alana was helping her walk and navigate with a walking stick. Alana put up obstacles around the premises and ankle weights on Paula. Paula at first seemed to participate and then she began to cry, and Alana kept pushing her to keep going and would not move anything at of her way. Paula then wet her pants and was scolded because apparently she does this everyday when she does not want to work any longer. I then began to work with Paula using hand over hand prompting and positive social reinforcement. I did obtain a few smiles and giggles from Paula and demonstrated there was more optimal success teaching children new skills while feeling good about themselves not criticized, no one learns by being criticized and demeaned. Adjacent to us there was another child about 4 years old working with a staff trained by Alana, on some speech strategies, but to my astonishment the boys mouth was taped shut with clear masking tape. I asked what is going on, and I was told that this little boy has a gag reflex and they think he pushes himself to throw up so many times a day that they decided to tape his mouth! Well, I explained that what they are doing will actually have adverse effects to talking and its a form of abuse. I helped them take the tape off and demonstrated working for stickers and social praise, like hugs and high fives. Alana explained to me that the only Dr. that is available for the boy to see is in South Africa and has a n appointment coming up in the next few months.
There were about 6 staff, one a psychologist and there were 2 were massage therapists. I assumed that the school was a non for profit or something funded by government per chance. There was no chance that the government even understood to put up a facility for children with special needs mattered. This school house was funded and run by the parents of the children who were mostly very well off and part of the government or had government jobs. I couldn’t believe it that rich, influential society people would purposely put their children into the care of this facility. Alana, then told me that she caught the massage therapist and was told another staff beat the children when they are not listening and she is trying to change that aspect of this behaviour modification being used. Alana was also going through some problems with the Psychologist on staff because she hardly showed up to work.
I wasn’t very successful in helping Alana recruit any volunteers or funding for the schoolhouse because of the influential parents that funded the school and VSO Mozambique has had no programs or organizations that fell under education that helped children with special needs that I could discover or was told about.
Through Alana and other connections I then met an American women Cathy who ran a library for children. Cathy would run the programs in the city to help children in the outside communities who did not attend school. I ran educational programs in the city for her to produce revenue and helped teach children in the community at times too. This particular community was called Catembe and the chief of this village was an older women who allowed us to run a school for the kids in her backyard amongst the animals. The children seemed very excited to come to class every 1 time a week for four hours. The children here have never seen books, paints, pens or paper. Children’s books were very rare in Moz and very expensive. So we made children’s books from recycled materials and depended on people donations for books and materials. Children were 2 years of age to about 11 years of age and the focus was learning language and literacy. Most children in this community did not know how to spell their names. The alphabet in Mozambican schools was not taught by recognition of the letters but by the sound of each letter was taught and children were taught hand writing script before they were taught how to print. Cathy believed that the children had to eat before they learned so we provided them with snack which was peanuts and water. One time and an American school came to volunteer and brought fruit juice for the kids and the line up was uncontrollable children were jumping over each other to obtain a glass of small cup of juice. The empty cartoon was then turned inside out for the left over juices to be sucked on. The children came to school with their baby brother/sisters tied to there backs and the clothing was always dirty, ripped or torn, but still some children would show up in their underwear. Most children had flip flops on, no shoes or mismatched shoes on.
There is no Ministry of Children and Youth, apparently children fall under the Ministry of Women which stands vulnerable too.
Not all women are maternal and the complexity of issues that women have in relationships and society is overwhelming. Women have had to depend on men for money and take on the stereotypical role of the breadwinner for many ages. This left women to be uneducated and unable to support themselves or their families. Men were known to have 2 families and many mistresses and if a man decided to leave a wife or child, she could only depend on the community or family for help (and they might shun her too). Many times if a women met another man and he asked to get rid of that child from her previous relationship, she would. Women have just recently been invited to attend universities and more women now than ever run their own business’. Also, a regulation has been passed in 2010 stating that domestic violence is against the law. However, when I asked my Program Manager if we ought to advocate for a Ministry of Children & Youth he said there was no point because no one listens to the law and its legislations.
Many people, seniors and adults with disabilities are left to fend from themselves and there is no wheelchair in site for miles. One day I stared in bewilderment as a I saw an older women on her padded knees and a wrap on her back cross a very busy street towards the bus stop. About 30 people were standing at this bus stop and no one helped her or asked if she needed help.
When I exited my 1 year life in Mozambique and had to discuss my events with the Director of VSO Mozambique, I thought it was important to state the obvious. The missing services for children and people with special needs that organizations like CUSO International ought to be aware of when working and placing important programs in developing countries. One of the famous projects in the communities and villages is to have access to bicycles because of the roads being inaccessible. I advise my superiors that that much concentration has to be on wheel chairs or other accessible services for people with disabilities. I was able to work with UNICEF for a short time and for the last 5 years they are beginning to implement Inclusionary Practices for young children with special needs in some of the schools in the provinces in Mozambique. There was also the ongoing issues of Albinos and apparently Mozambique was one of the better countries in the treatment of Albinos there was an art display for almost 2 mos that were self portraits taken of Albinos and hung in the arts and cultural centre by the train tracks. There is also a movie that was very easily accessible in Mozambique called: Rebelle War Witch about the life of a 14 year old who fell in love with an Albino. Other interesting films and events about the African culture can be found at http://torontoblackfilm.com/
Living and working in Mozambique was the best experience I had in my life. We take many things, services, materials, laws and legislations for granted. Having a different perspective because I lived outside of my comfort zone has made me feel like Margaret Mead. “A community can change by an outsider just observing the community.”
There were times when I worked and volunteered with children and I found the impossible possible which was to make them smile. Children seemed too mature beyond their years, saddened or hardened by life. All I wanted to do is to make sure that children were having fun. Then you would see it children laughing, playing with a stick, a tire and inventing some game and just being children. When I saw children happy no matter what I realized that ALL children are the same around the world. BEAUTIFUL.