Every year, in June, we have celebrated Helen Keller alongside children and young people with deafblindness and multisensory impairments from our partner schools, their parents, siblings and teachers. We asked a few questions on this from our colleague, Ramona Antonie, Programmes Manager with Sense International Romania, responsible with this wonderful activity in the organization. Here are her answers.
One word: Awareness!
Many years ago, more than 10 years ago, Sense International Romania began to celebrate Helen Keller, a person recognized internationally as the first person with deafblindness, which means someone who has both visual and hearing impairments.
In order to raise awareness of this category of people, it was necessary to find a person who is representative among the population, who was born with or acquired deafblindness throughout her life and had exceptional achievements, and then to promote her among our partners, our acquaintances, on media channels and online to the local and national community.
Why Helen Keller? Because if you look at Helen Keller and study her life, you realize that every child with deafblindness is able to achieve something meaningful in life.
Going on the same pattern, we chose this month, June, because Helen Keller was born on June 27th 1880.
A few words about Helen Keller: Helen was a strong person and extremely determined to study, and with the support from dedicated people, as was her teacher Anne Sullivan, managed to change her destiny and become a symbol recognized throughout the world.
She studied and received the Magna cum laude as the first person with both impairments to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, and then obtained a Ph.D. from Harvard. She traveled extensively and campaigned for the rights of people with disabilities and for access to equal opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
It’s important to point out that this disability is recognized in Romania by Law 448/2006 as deafblindness, alongside physical, visual, hearing, associated, rare diseases, so on, that people who have this double hearing and sight impairment can get the deafblindness certificate, although most people with deafblindness in our country have either hearing impairment or sight impairment on their disability certificate, even if they have both senses affected.
The June message we're sending?
Any child with deafblindness can do more than you might think if given the chance and support to reach their potential.
It's a message of hope focused both on parents of children with deafblindness, on young people and adults with this disability, but especially on educational, social and economic decision-makers.
I could say that we started with small steps, from smaller to larger in an increasingly structured, transparent and open way for any school that wanted to carry out such activities. The minimal criterion is that there are children with deafblindness/multisensory impairments in these schools, who are involved in specific activities. Also, we have encouraged collaborative projects between special schools and mainstream schools so as to increase the level of cooperation and acceptance between students, regardless of whether students with disability study or not in those mainstream schools.
Over time, we were surprised by dedicated teachers from our partner schools with a multitude of activities starting from trips and orientation and mobility activities in the mountains, at the seaside, in various cities and museums, modeling, painting and finger painting, horse therapy, saline therapy, pool hours, cooking workshops, preparing various pastries, gardening, painting with light and puppet theatre, pamphlet creation and distribution to other colleagues, surprise parties, huge puzzles, sensory tracks and the list continues.
If we were to estimate a number of children in the 10 years or so of Helen Keller's activities on the basis of the activity reports we have, these activities were attended by over 5000 students, 500 of them with deafblindness.
This year was definitely different in a way that we could not have predicted when we did our project planning, respectively the experience of an international pandemic generated by the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which put in front of us the challenge of continuing our activities in a completely different way. Thus, after team consultations within Sense International Romania, as well as with our partners in the education system, we have shifted the funds raised for the Helen Keller project in the acquisition of transparent masks useful to hearing-impaired students that we have directed where we have been asked to, various educational materials for children and parents, but also through the acquisition of hygienic-sanitary materials so that those school activities that take place during this period – national evaluations for students in the final years, be carried out in maximum safety for both pupils and teachers.
Below is the message of Professor Manuela Ionescu, from CSEI 2 Sibiu:
Thank you for the masks! These are very useful to students with hearing impairment because they can read lips and at the same time much of the face remains free so that it is easier to understand the facial expressions, making it easier to dialogue with children.
We hope that next year we will return to the activities we were doing with love with students with deafblindness and multisensory impairments.
I felt the lack of joy of a happy child's smile, a colorful balloon lifted to the sky with Helen Keller's name, photos of students happy with the novelty of some discoveries from a pleasant activity and the happiness of knowing that YOU can do something by your own forces, as well as some hashtags specific to this month that constantly appeared on the organization's Facebook page :
#helenkeller #dincolodesimturi #surdocecitate #numeleșcolii #SenseInternationalRomania
I don't know if it is fair to say that I only have one memory which I consider the most beautiful. I certainly have several memories of celebrating Helen Keller, from the young children in kindergarten who explored with their hands and feet various materials and textures and were extremely happy about it, to planting flowers and shrubs in the school garden or attending a hypotherapy session with them as was the case with 3 of our partners from Bucharest and Iaşi, to raising colored balloons with a group of enthusiastic children from Sibiu, or to accompany young people in their final years on a visit to a printing press or in the framework of a painting workshop with partners from Focşani, or to taste a wonderful cake with our partners from Oradea, and the examples can continue.
I could not choose just one beautiful moment because there is a whole collection of happy moments that resulted in happy smiles and the message that children and young people with deafblindness constantly convey: "I too can!"