Friday, June 14, 2013

Student Internship Reflection: Eros School - Rebecca Gingrich

When I first set foot in Eros, a school for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities, I had some concerns about the facilities and the technology. The building and the limited resources of the school do not appear to meet the standards of what would be expected in the United States. It unfortunately took me a couple days to see beyond the fa├žade and discover the love and community that make this school great. It is wonderful that these children, who often have many past and current troubles, are provided with a community that they can come to every day to both learn and receive the care that they need. The faculty and staff work with what resources they do have in order to offer them the care and attention that they need and probably would not receive at a mainstream school.
            My time at Eros has taught me many things. I have learned more about disabilities, occupational therapy in South Africa, the Muslim subculture of Cape Town, and many of the issues that South Africa faces today. The most important issue that I have learned about and seen in action, however, is acceptance of others. The school preaches not to treat people differently and make fun of them for their disabilities. I have seen firsthand how amazing these kids are and how much they can accomplish in spite of their disabilities and often not so perfect home lives. Not only do I accept these children, but I care for them and admire them as well. I have also learned the importance of accepting others from the faculty and staff. They come from different religious and cultural backgrounds, which can be tricky at times. I have seen the benefit of understanding and accepting the religious beliefs and practices of others, which can help to strengthen relationships and improve the overall atmosphere of the school.
            Half of my time at Eros was spent in occupational therapy, and the other half was spent in the kindergarten classroom. Though the OT department applied more directly to my future career as an occupational therapist and taught me a lot about the field here in South Africa, I enjoyed helping in the classroom because it allowed me the opportunity to get to know some of the kids better and to interact with them directly. As it nears time to leave and head back to the United States, I am realizing how difficult it will be for me to say goodbye to all of the children. I have learned from their situations, and they have truly made an impression on me.
            Though I have many favorites from the class, one of them is a boy named Tinashe from Zimbabwe. He has cerebral palsy in a more severe form than some of the other kids and cannot walk at all on his own. He also has trouble speaking sometimes and with his fine motor skills.
Tinashe’s mother cam e to South Africa with him in order to get better care for him. He lives in the hostel that is connected to the school, as his mother cannot take care of him during the week or on most weekends. Though Tinashe’s life has not been easy or stable, his smile can light up a room, and I cannot help but smile myself when I see him. One day the kindergarten class was cutting out pictures of food from magazines and pasting them on a page. I was helping some of the kids who struggle with cutting because they were having trouble and were getting frustrated. Tinashe, on the other hand, wanted to do it all by himself and worked hard for the entire time to get two pictures cut out perfectly. This was not an easy task for him, but he persisted and refused to give up. Tinashe could be the poster boy for determination. He does all he can not to let his disability get in the way, which is a moving thing to see.
            I have been helping Tinashe a lot on the playground because he wants to get out and play like his classmates do. I help him climb up the play set, but then I encourage him to get across it on his own as much as possible. I help him along the way when he gets stuck, and I help him down the fireman’s pole at the end as well. I feel that he is getting more and more independent as the days pass, and I hope that someday he will be able to play on the playground all by himself. I have also been encouraging Tinashe to walk by letting him hold onto my hands while he walks to the play set. He usually uses a wheelchair or crawls on the ground, but I turned around the other day and saw him heading towards the play set by using a walker instead. One of the other children exclaimed, “Tinashe is walking!” and Tinashe’s face lit up with pride. Of course I cannot take the credit for his progress because the therapists at the school are the ones who have been working with him directly and regularly to improve his skills. Nonetheless, it is exciting to witness his progress and see his excitement.

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