We have a young woman visiting right now as a result of her winning the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship award, so we are looking into her topic of study, how non-governmental organizations help those with disabilities.
Among the many possible folks we’ve spoken with, we decided that it would be an interesting idea to visit the school for children with hearing disabilities that Kiev Christian Academy rents space from. Wow.
Yes, this is a government school, so it’s not specifically within the scope of her study, but it was still a wonderful visit. When we first arranged for a visit/interview, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. By virtue of the wonderful relationship our KCA administration has developed with the school, Ludmilla readily accepted our request for a visit. And when we stepped into her office, we were very warmly greeted.
I should say here that in trying to set up other interviews and visits, many people have been somewhat hesitant to have an unknown-to-them outsider come in and ask questions, and understandably so. I have striven at each turn to assure them that this is a) a student who is pursuing a research project of sorts * and b) nothing formal would be published or broadcast without their seeing it first.
So Ludmilla’s warm greeting was an unexpected pleasure. She first took us to a room she designated the school museum, a wonderful room rehearsing the history of the school since its founding in 1900. What a cool room! Complete with photos and original textbooks and equipment, we traveled through time and saw how some amazing men and women strove to help completely deaf children not only gain an understanding of their world, but also get a solid education so they could go on to be independent adults. [Ludmilla said the room is a wonderful aid for her new teachers, helping them to understand what the school’s all about.]
As we’ve seen in our experience with our church’s ministry for those with disabilities, this kind of assistance has not always been either available, or a priority, especially as independence, economic, and political uncertainty have caused many priorities to fall through the cracks. Ludmilla did say that there are just 35 such schools in all of Ukraine, in an overall population of 45 million.
After the museum, we visited several classrooms, where the class size is held to no more than 8 children. This is significant. In our experience – when Anna, Abigail, and Mary went to a local public school – the class size was never fewer than 30 children; Abby’s had 37 for her four years of elementary school.
There are 250 children total attending this school, so this has meant a challenge of finding a large number of qualified teachers who are willing to work for a relatively small salary. Although it is a public school, the extent to which is funded is limited. Ludmilla has, like many school directors, sought out sympathetic partners to help her round out her program. And as we saw in Abby’s and Anna’s experience, the parents are asked to help with most of the upkeep or renovation projects in the individual classrooms (in Abby’s class, we all contributed to replacing the drafty windows!)
It was a delight to our guest to see the kids finger-spelling their names to her, or, for those who’ve learned speech, reciting a poem they’ve learned. She delighted them by identifying with them and showing them her own hearing aids, which drew repeated comments of, ‘How small they are!”
After we visited the kids, we stopped back in the director’s office and just asked questions. One thoughtful question – What are some of your dreams for the future? – elicited the response, ‘I dream of being able to open a whole center where we could have people of all ages come in and where we could help in all areas of their lives, whether job training, social assistance, or counseling.’
After living here for as long as we have, and after our own experience in a typical public school, and after learning what we’ve learned about the profound (and too often unmet) needs of those with disabilities here, this governmental school was a bright spot among the many here who desire to meet those profound needs.
This week, we hope to visit with some ministries who are doing an amazing work with children with Down’s Syndrome. Lord willing, I’ll be able to share some of that with you soon.
Thank you for your patience in my dereliction of duty in keeping our blog up to date. We do so desire to keep you informed on what’s happening here!
*The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is an interesting scholarship which you can read about here: http://www.watsonfellowship.org/site/what/what.html