PART II: Experience Working with Children with Specific Learning Difficulties

Author: Sarah Kpentey

Q: What is it like to work with children here?
Ms. Ubels: I don’t directly work with them because of my role as the head of the organization. The strategy is to train Ghanaian teachers to work with them effectively. The children can identify with these teachers more than with me, a foreigner. One sure thing with these children is that there are always surprises. There is a need for patience and understanding as most of them are slow in grasping things. A lot of them have memory problems. Street life also leaves a mark on them and this tells in their habits. There is always a lot of tension among the children which needs to be managed well. There are occasions when macho men have walked in here looking for a particular child who has perhaps stolen something. We talk and calm them down; defend and protect the child.

Q: How do you get the students, from the streets?
Ms. Ubels: We go out into the streets. Again, because we have been in existence for some years now, children also bring their friends. Nearly every morning, new children come in.

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Q: Do the children go back to the streets?
Ms. Ubels: Yes. The programme we run is just for the day so when the children leave, they go back into the streets, do some work so they can earn some money to feed themselves in the evening. In the evening, they hang around here and play games. They usually sleep at midnight and for a couple of hours only. At 4 or 5am life starts again. They work early in the morning and come in at 7:30.

Q: Do they usually come here tired?
Ms. Ubels: Generally, children are lively. Aside this, a lot of these children are hyperactive; a known attribute of children with learning difficulties. They don’t need all that much sleep like ordinary kids because they have so much energy. Their sleeping patterns change when they are much older. 

Q: What are some of the programmes you are currently running?
Ms. Ubels: We are run a programme here at Kaneshie market for children in the area who are not in school and those that are on the streets. We give them individualised education, help them experience that they can learn, show understanding and help them overcome their academic problem. We educate the families about learning difficulties and that is very important. Families usually have a perception that the child is either lazy or troublesome or sometimes spiritually disturbed. 
We are educating the public about learning disabilities and the right of children to education; one that will really help them overcome their problems. We also work with the education sector; Ghana Education Service. Advocating and trying to influence policy that is inclusive so that every child goes to school no matter their ability, problem or needs so that all children will stay in school and complete.
We are also developing learning solutions to help schools implement inclusive measures. We havedeveloped a reading method using phonics in the local language to help children with learning problems learn reading easier.

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Q: What are some of your accomplishments so far?
Ms. Ubels: For me, the most important thing is that we have a really committed team. That we have been able to create a programme that is so child friendly and that is run by young adults who are really so committed and caring for the children and who are so understanding about the learning observation about the children is a huge achievement. Another accomplishment is that we are still here after almost 8 years, finding, defending all the time, to stand in the gap to do everything that needs to be done. 

Q: How do you say the government and teachers you are training are reacting?
Ms. Ubels: That’s indeed also another accomplishment that we can cite. For the years, we have been existing and been operational, we have been able to work with the government educational services, special education division. We have made input and been consulted in various decisions for example, the inclusive education policy. We also partner organizations like UNICEF at the moment; they think we are making a lot of difference for the children who are out of school and in effect retranslating that into information awareness, focus training to prevent more children from ending up in the same situation.

Q: How do you rate your achievement level? 
Ms. Ubels: It is never high enough. There are so many things that we should be doing and could have been doing now. We have done much work, but more can be done especially with the media,

Michael Arthur