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According to Principal Lagi Natanielu, children with disabilities often face numerous challenges within mainstream education facilities, with some choosing to discontinue education altogether.

She said, “As you would know in any community, people with disabilities are marginalised and can face stigma from others, so we strive to provide a safe environment for our students where they feel accepted, valued and cared for.

Jan Kennington, after a long career in education in New Zealand, volunteered with LTS as a Special Education Adviser. “I wanted to be a volunteer many years ago, I thought about the possibility of coming to a Pacific Island. When I was retiring from my position in Auckland, I thought, I have no ties, no responsibilities holding me back, so I applied for the position. It’s a really exciting adventure for me.”

Jan Kennington with Lagi Natanielu

Kennington formed a close relationship with Natalielu and the teaching staff, and looked closely at how children were being taught, she found that rather than grouping children by age, looking at ability would be more effective. “The more we assess children and see what they’ve learnt, the better we know what to teach them next. We’ve regrouped a lot of children in different ways as a result of the way we’ve tested them, and that’s probably the biggest outcome.”

Natanielu says, “In recent years that there has been a growing awareness and acceptance for people with disabilities in the community. We always try to add value to what we do, whether it’s through community engagement, engaging our parents through our Parent-Teacher Association or through our inclusive curriculum.”

According to UNICEF’s 2010 Pacific Children with Disabilities Report, children with disabilities in the Pacific who attend main stream education facilities, often attend only for a few years before discontinuing their learning. The efforts of LTS and other like-minded organisations are crucial for the livelihood of people with disabilities in the Pacific.

Natanielu explains, “At the moment, Samoa does not have a curriculum catering specifically for students with disabilities so part of what we do is to see how we can adjust and adapt the Ministry of Education’s curriculum to meet the needs of each of our students.”

Kennington has become involved in work on special education policy while in Samoa and says “It’s really easy to come to another country with a head full of knowledge that works in New Zealand but won’t necessarily work in this context, so it’s really important to discuss what’s appropriate. I’ve had a wonderful career and it’s been a blessing to have that career, and this is just a wonderful opportunity to give away a little bit of my knowledge.”

Natanielu says “Working with people with disabilities, especially with children at a young age can be very challenging, but at the end of the day to see them laughing and having fun whilst learning, makes it all worth it. The biggest reward is to see them flourishing and making progress each day.”

VSA recruits year-round for volunteers from a wide variety of education and other professional backgrounds – assignments range from six months to two years, and costs are covered. Find out more: www.vsa.org.nz/volunteer

Banner image:  LTS teachers with Harry and Joshua, and As, who is teaching them to use the Braille machines.

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