Lindsey Chapman's Travel Blog


Recognizing Difference
October 19, 2010, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Chile | Tags: , , , ,

My experience with the disabled began with Colin.

He was a happy, 19-year-old boy with Down syndrome when I started working with him as a personal care attendant. During my sophomore year of college, I spent one or two evenings a week with him until a few months after I graduated. I also had the opportunity to help out at his Sunday School class that his mom lead, a class  full of students with any type of disability that existed within the church.

My interest in the disabled increased as my friendship with Colin and his family grew closer. I decided to join him, as a volunteer, at a week long summer camp he attended each year called Joni and Friends. I hopped in the car and made my way to Indiana about a month after I graduated. I was assigned to work with another boy with Down syndrome named Dan, who was also a happy-go-lucky kid around the same age as Colin. Because of the wide range of severity and accompanying complications within the same diagnosis, in this case Down syndrome,  it was a very good learning experience to work closely with another kid like Colin. They were very different. Colin was more reserved and used to love just sitting alone, trying to make me laugh by making funny noises. (Trust me, this could occupy his entire day if you let it.) While Colin wouldn’t touch water with a ten foot pole, Dan had the time of his life tubing behind a boat at summer camp.

As I work with the younger kids at Anakena here in Chile, I am continually reminded of the infinite levels of independence and unique personal characteristics possessed by children with the “same” disability. I had to ask my tia why Leonardo was in our class because for all that I could tell after working with him for a week, he appeared “normal.”  He helps with the other children and always knows the answers in class.  She responded by saying that he has a low level learning deficit and is probably the highest functioning child in the class. I hope for his sake, that being in that position doesn’t hinder his learning process. Then there is Alejandro, who’s autism is evident upon first glance. He experiences its effects both mentally and physically. He is a challenge, to say the least, because he’s in the stage of life where he must question authority at any given opportunity. And if you have spent any time with kids, you know that disobedience is contagious among a group of curious children. Disciplining children with disabilities opens up Pandora’s box of life lessons. The biggest one? Patience, patience, patience.

There are two children in the class with Down syndrome, Javiera and Felippe. They are both incredibly adorable and extremely stubborn in their own way. It is really interesting to work with them and think about what Colin and Dan might have been like at their age.

I have been disappointed with the education provided by Anakena when I am wearing my red, white and blue lenses. However, the school is quite impressive when you consider that “discapacidades en Santiago, Chile” brings up less than ten relevant results in Google, which is nothing for a city of five million. I’m not exactly sure what kind of resources exist for the disabled in schools and programs here in Chile, but I know it is little to none.  I have only seen one computer at Anakena, in the director’s office. The tias hand write all the assignments for each of the kids because there are no printers, copiers, projectors, or smart boards. They re-use all plastic “disposable” cutlery and paper plates each day for snack time. There is no heat and no hot water.

Yet, without all these things they manage to make education happen day in and day out. They make it happen out of necessity, but surely they would appreciate some of the luxuries we call “necessities” in the states. If you are interested in changing the lives of some teachers at Anakena or other schools in Chile, please contact VE Global to see how you can help.

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