VSO placement in Africa - case study

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A special school headteacher who’s just returned from a VSO placement in Africa believes there is much the UK can learn from AIDS ridden communities about successfully living with disability.
 
Barry Payne, head of  Parkside special school in Norwich has just spent 3 months in Namibia supporting and advising headteachers in the Omusati region where up to 40% of the population have AIDS.

He says the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) funded placement  gave him a valuable insight into how pupils in Africa cope positively with disability.

“There is much less support for disabled children in Africa than in this country and yet many of the children suffering with AIDS and other difficulties cope brilliantly with their disability. Their tenacity is amazing.”

“We can over-support disabled children in this country to the point that they become too dependent and rely totally on the systems in place for them. It’s like giving someone a crutch and then finding out afterwards that they could have walked without it.”

Barry is now keen to spread this message back home. “Children with disabilities do need appropriate support but they also need independence and responsibility to deal with things themselves. We should be challenging and stretching them not wrapping them in cotton wool.”

Barry admits that despite the resilience of the children in Namibia conversely there wasn’t enough support for SEN pupils and he worked with a number of schools there on understanding different types of special needs, and developing more inclusive teaching styles.

“The education system is still in its infancy in Namibia - more like it was in this country 90 years ago – but I think I was able to sow some seeds of good practice. I was really chuffed to find one of the schools which I worked with is now training other schools in the region on understanding special needs.”

During his placement Barry was struck by how well the people manage in tough conditions.

“There was the Grandmother who, because of the death of her children, was bringing up eleven grandchildren on her own by weaving baskets. She never once complained or moaned. There was the woman who was made homeless by floods and her worldly goods fitted into the boot of a car. Although I knew her quite well, she never asked for anything. There were the children at school who lived in hostels, where the conditions were so poor that just walking through them was an emotional roller coaster. Whenever I met them around the school, they always had a smile on their faces. I hear so much about how tough it is in the western world with the financial crisis and I cannot help but think we could learn a lot from the people in Namibia.”
 
Now back in the UK Barry has already set up a link with one of the schools he worked with in Namibia and he’s hoping to arrange teacher exchange trips. He says the placement has also been fantastic for his deputy who acted up while he was away. “She’s continued to develop the school and it’s given her a real taste for headship. It’s great that the scheme gives deputies a chance to properly run a school and see how rewarding that is.”

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