Our partners at African Education Program saw a large need in their community to support the education of children with disabilities and special needs. In 2019, AEP created the Read for Rose Special Education Program to serve that need. We held a virtual interview with Febby Choombe, the Director of Special Education and the creator of the Read for Rose program, to find out how the program was developed, the impact it is having on the community, and what’s next for the program!
Can you tell us a bit about the Read for Rose Program and what drew you toward developing it?
The Read for Rose Special Education Program was established in 2019 and is another one of the many amazing programs at the Amos Youth Center in Kafue, Zambia. This year we celebrated its third anniversary. The program started with just a few students and now has 21 students living with different special needs. These students are differently-abled as a result of the following conditions: hearing-impaired, visually-impaired, physical impairment, autism, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus, and intellectual impairments. The program offers before and after-school tuition (tutoring) to their learners and access to a hot and nutritious meal every day. They learn sign language, braille, mobility, and life skills, and have access to tablets where they can acquire digital learning skills.
Looking at the challenges that the students with special needs were facing before the program prompted me to establish this program. Before this program, many students with special needs would drop out of school due to a lack of teachers trained to work with special needs students. Students with hearing challenges were unable to communicate, and those with visual challenges had zero skills in basic braille reading and writing. As for those with physical and intellectual challenges, they were kept hidden at home due to stigmatization and lack of mobility.
What is a typical day for you at the Read or Rose Program?
Students come to the Center on a daily basis to have access to a variety of programs such as tuition (tutoring), braille lessons, skills development activities, ICT skills training, and lunch. During lunch, students enjoy delicious meals which for most of them is the only meaningful meal for the day. Students get to interact with their friends and student teachers during the day.
What are the student’s reactions to the program?
Students feel comfortable, loved, understood, included, and welcome to come and benefit from this program. During holidays, regardless of their friend staying at home or going on holiday, the Read for Rose students prefer to spend their holidays at the center.
What successes have you seen since the program started?
- Students have acquired sign language, braille, mobility, reading, and writing skills which they did not have before the program.
- Through the Read for Rose Program, three of our older students have managed to write their final grade 7 exams and have qualified to go to the 8th grade at a government-run school.
- Students are able to communicate with their teachers, parents, and others in the community using the language acquired at the Center.
- Students are able to participate in different programs at the community level. (e.g., Life Skill and Leadership Camp).
- Students are able to teach their parents during and after sign language classes.
- Some students are able to come to the Center on their own, without being told or brought.
How has the program impacted the community?
- The most vulnerable families who can not afford or do not have means of transportation to take their children to school depend on this program as the only option for academic support.
- The program has contributed to healthy children in the community.
- Some students used to be found in the community begging and being found in wrong places. This program has helped them to no longer be found in those places because they are at the center enjoying academic activities.
- Parents of children with special needs who bring their children to Read for Rose now have time to do business or small piece work to be able to provide for their families.
- Through this program, parents are able to have access to entrepreneurship programs at the main center which improves their financial literacy.
You are now also offering Parent Sign Language classes for caretakers of students in the Read for Rose program. Can you tell us how that program started, what outcomes you have seen so far, as well as if you feel the program will continue on and keep growing?
The Parent Sign Language Class started after noticing the challenges of the language barrier that our students were having with their parents at home. Before the class, parents used to come or call to find out what the students would sign at home in the quest to communicate and wanting to be heard. This was a challenge because each time the student was sick, parents would always call. Even then parents wanted to discipline, teach, advise or communicate. This program was introduced so that we would break the language barrier that was there between parents and caretakers.
Our student’s parents and caretakers are now able to communicate with their children without us translating and going to their home and explaining what the student is trying to communicate. The students are also able to communicate with the Read for Rose cook without challenges. There is good communication between other speaking students and students who rely on sign language.
This program will definitely continue. Parents and their children are eager to learn this language.
How are the classes and coursework for both the Read for Rose program and the Parent Sign Language classes developed and facilitated?
The sign language classes have been developed based on the school’s sign language syllabus. The Parent Sign Language class is held once a week. It is either facilitated by Madam Annie (assistant teacher) or Febby (the trained sign language teacher). It is also interesting to note that the same students are sometimes used to facilitate the parents’ sign language classes. This makes the parents happy to see their children lead the class and teach others. They truly believe in this program.
How do you feel about the Read for Rose Program?
Working with people who are so marginalized and who are so dear to my heart, provided me with an opportunity to give them a language, knowledge, and skill which can have a lasting impact. It gives me a reason to remain devoted to this program and curiosity to see how this program will change their lives as they reach their fullest potential in life.
What current needs does the Read for Rose program have?
- A Braille embosser is a machine that can help translate print to braille print for our students who rely on braille for notes.
- Wheelchairs, sitting and standing frames for the students living with physical challenges.
- A carpet where our students can sit during physical exercise.
- Sewing machines.
- Cotton material/Head sock/Cotton sweater for the doormats making skills class.
- Tufting gun machine for the door mats-making class.
Please let us know if there is any other information about this program that you would like to share with us!
Two of the parents and one older college student have been coming to the Read for Rose Program center to work with our students to teach them how to make door mats. The students love this activity. So far the students, with the help of the parents, have made 8 doormats.
We’re in awe of the students, teachers, and supporting staff of the Read For Rose program. If you want to help them reach more students and make a bigger impact in their community visit their project page and donate now!