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Constructing equal studying alternatives for differently-abled kids in Malawi: An interview with Persistence Mkandawire on the evolution of Fount for Nations (Half 1)


Partly 1 of this interview, Persistence Mkandawire talks with Thomas Hatch concerning the origins and preliminary challenges in creating Fount for Nations, a company that has developed faculty, hospital, and group applications to help the schooling and improvement of differently-abled kids in Malawi. Subsequent week, half 2 of the interview will concentrate on Fount for Nations more moderen evolution, work through the COVID faculty closures, and subsequent steps. Along with being one of many founders of Fount for Nations, Mkandawire was chosen as an Obama Scholar at Columbia College through the 2021-22 yr.

The Origins of Fount for Nations
Thomas Hatch: Might you begin by telling us somewhat bit about how Fount for Nations received began. What received you curious about these points?

Persistence Mkandawire: It was mainly my mother who pushed me. She cherished serving to individuals and there was a time I used to be taking my child brother for progress monitoring — in Malawi, progress monitoring occurs each single month for kids from beginning to 5 years. Once I was 14 or 15, being the eldest, I took my brother into the clinic and we have been caught in a line from 7 am to three pm and all he wanted to do was get his weight checked! I went again dwelling, and I stated, “Mother, that was such a waste of my time.” She simply advised me, “You’re not the one one who wasted your time, so possibly you must go and assist out.”  And so I did. I went again to the clinic, and I requested a Dr. “Why do we now have such lengthy traces? How can I assist?” “We don’t have lots of people who do triage,” the Dr. advised me. “For those who wouldn’t thoughts simply weighing infants that can drive the site visitors lots sooner.”  That’s how I began.

I stated, “Mother, that was such a waste of my time.” She simply advised me, “You’re not the one one who wasted your time, so possibly you must go and assist out.”

After that, I began volunteering at a neighborhood hospital [one of only two hospitals in the country that offered chemotherapy] and I had quite a lot of time to know why the children have been within the hospital, and I used to be very interested by their studying. At one level, I met a boy who had lymphoma and he advised me that he was in grade 4, however I discovered he couldn’t write his identify — he wrote his identify backwards and confused the B’s and the D’s. For me, that was so fascinating as a result of I by no means actually struggled in class, and right here was this boy who was purported to be shifting into higher major faculty, how may he not know tips on how to spell his identify?  I talked to an American pediatrician there who kind of took me below her wing. She confirmed me issues across the kids’s ward. She launched me to particular wants, and she or he advised me he might need what we name dyslexia. At that time I arrange an exercise heart for kids on the hospital. I labored with a group of UN volunteers, and we did somewhat little bit of fundraising for it. We did a toy drive after which a e-book drive, and I spent quite a lot of time with the children, tutoring them and giving them alternatives for play and coloring and drawing and issues like that.

That was actually step one. Then I went to varsity and studied vitamin and meals science. The hospital was in the identical metropolis the place I studied, so it was simple for me to simply go there to test on issues as a result of I used to be not doing this alone, I used to be doing this with the group of execs. After school, I didn’t have a job immediately, and I volunteered at my mother’s faculty as a result of my mother was a trainer at a personal faculty. There I met one other boy. This time it was wanting like he had autism and his lecturers have been robotically failing him. However I received to spend time with him, and I found how he discovered and located he cherished storytelling and drawing. I experimented by telling him tales for no matter lesson he was purported to be studying and requested him to attract. For instance for his historical past class or his geography class, I’d inform tales concerning the Amazon and the bugs there and the opposite species, after which he would draw. He did so nicely, and l thought “What an fascinating method to study.” However then I assumed, “If that is what it seems to be like in a personal faculty, I ponder what it will be like in a public faculty?” I visited a public faculty, and I discovered quite a lot of the identical drama and issues there and that basically began the whole lot. It was a mix of experiences. I volunteered in several areas then lastly, I used to be like, no, one thing must be finished and that’s after I arrange Fount for Nations, with the help of my mother and my, then, very shut good friend who’s now my husband. We registered the group and needed to concentrate on kids’s studying and kids studying otherwise and to make use of inventive arts as a method to train literacy and numeracy. After I registered the group, I went again to the exercise heart on the hospital, and it turned one of many locations that we labored. We re-opened the middle with skilled volunteers and skilled healthcare staff. We professionalized it as a result of I used to be now extra conscious and extra organized.

TH: After establishing Fount for Nations you labored in healthcare settings and in faculties, however did you could have a spotlight at the moment on working with kids with developmental or studying variations? 

PM: That hasn’t actually modified. I needed to see that kids who study otherwise or are differently-abled can progress in class, however our scope was bigger. We did programming in hospitals and programming in faculties and programming in communities. And our purpose was wherever a toddler is, they need to be capable to proceed studying and succeed of their studying. In order that was mainly it…we needed to see these children do higher in class and progress by faculty. We’ve been attempting to attain that ever since.

“that was mainly it…we needed to see these children do higher in class and progress by faculty. We’ve been attempting to attain that ever since.”

However the hospital applications, initially, have been somewhat bit completely different. Although it began with a toddler who had most cancers and a studying issue, not the entire kids within the hospital have been like that. For the hospital program we needed to open it up. Our standards have been that the youngsters needed to be in major faculty, six years to 12 years outdated, and the opposite standards was they needed to be within the hospital receiving remedy that may preserve them out of faculty for a interval of three months or extra. In response to the college schedule, if a toddler misses three months or extra then they repeat the entire yr, and we needed to keep away from the repetition. In the event that they have been going to be in a hospital for greater than three months receiving remedy, then they certified for our program. Children with malaria, for instance, didn’t qualify, as a result of these are brief therapies, but when that they had tuberculosis, if that they had most cancers, or if that they had HIV – that was additionally a really massive deal at the moment – then they may very well be enrolled in our program as a result of they might be absent from so many courses. We later diminished this requirement to a month or extra of hospitalization or in the event that they have been on therapies that required a number of hospitalizations.

The college program, however, has all the time been 100% kids with studying variations as a result of we work in class useful resource facilities. These are particular facilities throughout the faculty the place all the children with completely different circumstances are available and that’s the place they get their help. Within the useful resource facilities, it doesn’t matter the kid’s age or their skill, they’re all put in a single room with one trainer. That’s why it was such a problem as a result of even two children with autism or two with cerebral palsy had very completely different wants. Kids with cerebral palsy could have some mobility or no mobility. Some children with autism have been extremely purposeful, however others weren’t. As a consequence, with the useful resource facilities on the time, a few of it was simply the quantity of labor that the lecturers needed to put in to supply individualized studying. That’s the place we got here in: to supply the volunteers to cut back the student-teacher ratio. Once we began, that ratio was round 45 or 50 to at least one trainer. We positioned as much as three volunteers per faculty lowering it to about 5 to 10 children per trainer or instructing assistant. That’s the way it was structured to start with, for the primary two to 3 years of our work, specializing in strengthening the well being care system and strengthening the college system to have the ability to help the youngsters.

Preliminary Challenges

TH: What are a few of the first challenges you confronted as you tried to work in these completely different areas?
PM: The primary problem was on the hospital the place I began the primary exercise heart and in understanding the place of schooling in well being care. There was a brand new chief on the hospital. He was not a pediatrician. He didn’t assume that there was worth in addressing the social-emotional elements of affected person care. He felt that we simply wanted to concentrate on physiology so we have been in battle.  As one in all solely two hospitals within the nation that provided chemotherapy, children and their households typically needed to journey 400 kilometers from their properties to obtain remedy. This was not simple on the households, so the hospital would admit the youngsters all through their remedy. That meant six months within the hospital, 9 months in a hospital, a yr within the hospital. And that is time away from faculty, away from socialization, away from pals, away from play, away from the whole lot that’s acquainted to a toddler. My argument was that this impacts their restoration; it impacts how they reply to the treatment; and, in fact, it impacts their mother and father, a lot of whom don’t imagine their children can get higher.  So, we provided emotional well being take care of the mother and father and likewise for the kid centered on play. And we used play to elucidate the completely different circumstances and to elucidate the method of chemo to them. We used to play to assist them simply unwind and never be afraid of all of the needles and being within the hospital. Additionally, we used play for studying and for offering continuity in order that after they went again into faculty they aren’t misplaced they usually haven’t regressed.

All the things got here to an finish once we have been planning a fundraising occasion to renovate an outdated constructing into a brand new exercise heart for the hospital as a result of we have been beginning to run out of house. There was a constructing that they used as a development warehouse that was empty, and we needed to renovate it. All the things was all set, however the day earlier than the occasion, there was a misunderstanding with the hospital director and he actually kicked us out of the hospital. Identical to that this system ended, and Fount for Nations left the hospital. I used to be so dissatisfied, however the stunning factor about it’s we had skilled volunteers and healthcare practitioners, nurses and group well being staff to supply play remedy and help the youngsters socio-emotionally. I believe this system stopped for about six months, however then it picked up once more and now it’s being run independently.

The opposite problem we had was with faculties. We labored in useful resource facilities for kids with studying variations in authorities major faculties and people faculties had their very own distinctive challenges like low trainer salaries, lack of coaching for lecturers, and lecturers being overburdened. Initially, we sat down with the lecturers and we stated, “What do you should make it easier to succeed? To assist these children succeed?” And so they stated “we want additional assist; we want instructing assistants, we want supplies, we want assist with mother and father.”  So, we centered on all these issues.  

We additionally requested the mother and father, “Is that this serving to?” And what the mother and father stated was, “That is nice, however there’s quite a lot of stigma and discrimination within the communities, and we get actually discouraged and actually disheartened.” We had been doing quite a lot of info classes with mother and father to assist them perceive the completely different circumstances that the youngsters had, and we needed to assist them with coping methods. However they advised us, “The issue is larger than us.”  Constructing on that, I needed to assist fight myths like these children are bewitched and must be locked away which comes from the group, so we began doing much more group engagement and began working with chiefs and native leaders to start out elevating consciousness across the skills of kids with developmental and studying variations.

We had a bonus for this work as a result of in faculties we began what we referred to as “showcases.” At these showcases, children from the useful resource facilities would show what that they had been studying. As a result of we used inventive arts, it was very tangible, with shows of bangles, mats and coloration work amongst different inventive tasks. Individuals have been tremendous excited. They’re like “oh these children can really do issues!” Across the third yr, we began an annual public sale. We took what the children produced on the hospital and the colleges and labored with an artist to border them, after which we auctioned them off. A part of it was fundraising however a very powerful half was elevating consciousness about what these children can do about what they’re studying. It was an academic household enjoyable day in addition to a fundraiser. 

However after a yr of doing the whole lot that the lecturers and the mother and father needed, we realized we couldn’t financially maintain it, so we sat with the lecturers once more and requested them, “What works? What doesn’t work? What has labored for you, this yr, and what hasn’t labored? And what are your priorities?” They advised us, “We want you to concentrate on trainer coaching and mum or dad help.” So, we dropped the fabric help. We dropped the volunteer program. We dropped the showcases. As a substitute, along with offering trainings for lecturers, we began advocating in communities immediately versus having the college as our base. That in a while served us within the pandemic as a result of we had different avenues to ship our programming, versus simply being caught in a college. 

…We began advocating in communities immediately versus having the college as our base. That in a while served us within the pandemic as a result of we had different avenues to ship our programming, versus simply being caught in a college.

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