My Life In India
Blogblablablablog. (I hope everyone understands that I am singing this to the tune of The Thong Song by Sisqo. I hope that everyone remembers that, indeed, that song exists.)
Good afternoon, blog readers.
Call it predictable, I am sitting in a coffee shop on my Sunday off, trying to generate another mess to publish and share with the world. However, unlike most of my attempts a blog-writing, today I know exactly what I want to share with you all. But first, some house-cleaning.
So much has happened since I last wrote a blog, I see it as exceptionally necessary to first do a quick life recap:
1) I completed my first 6 months of life in India.
2) I signed up for another 6 more months, at least.
3) I came home for my visa break.
4) I have returned to India from my visa break!
I hoped that I would spend my little vacation as time to write down my reflections of my first six months. This did not happen, but I am hoping that I can do so a little now and a lot more later.
So, here is a small reflection for now, and I will have to share more in later posts. Time at home, time with friends and family, time away from India showed me how good God is to have blessed me with so many places in this world that have a hold on my heart so completely. It was so good, so sweet and so lovely to be reunited with so many people I love back home. At the same time it was so challenging to be away from my students, from life here. The intensity of my joy to be home as well as the intensity of my desire to come back to India often felt conflicting and bittersweet, but the tug and pull of these feelings left my heart so full of gratitude and love. I am immeasurably blessed to be given home, to be shown beauty, to be invited into the work of His Kingdom, to be given a purpose that keeps my heart so full where He has guided my path.
Also over my time home, I received an overwhelming amount of support, through prayer, love, and the generosity of friends and family. Thanks to the kindness of so many people back home, I have been able to fundraise most of the costs of serving abroad. This means that for the next six months, I have a bed, food, clean drinking water, and wifi. Most importantly, the generosity of so many of you has allowed me to continue on in the most fulfilling work of my life. I am so happy to be home in India, so happy to be working with my students again, and so thankful for the ability to return through your kindness.
So, now that I’ve caught you up, for the most part, on my life these past few months, allow me to shift focus to the purpose of this blog: Mae.
Very appropriately, I’ve decided to name this post the Month of Mae, because (1) this golden flower deserves an entire month of celebration and (2) let’s be honest, the likelihood that I write another blog post by the end of this month is dismally slim.
Mae is one of the preschoolers I teach at ASB. Mae is a five-year old, pocket-sized firecracker. Simply hearing her laugh and seeing her smile leaves an indelible mark on the heart of anyone who is so privileged to meet her. She is Little Miss Sunshine; she is a Supermega Nutball. She is headstrong, silly, sweet. Most of all, she is boundless joy. She is life overflowing.
Mae has been at SCH just a month longer than I have. Over these past 8 months (approximately) she has grown so much, in all arenas, surpassing every expectation. Remembering my first few days with her in the light of all she’s become, in the light of all of her never-ending growth, fills me with such pride in who she is and such inexpressible gratitude that I get to know and love her. She has transformed from a child too weak to stand or walk into a jumping, dancing machine. She came with no exposure to English, and is now fluent in both English and Telugu. I could go on and on about her transformation (I will in sections below), but for now, here in this section of my blog, I must say that, most notably, I have observed growth in her security in her environment, which I see as foundational to the boundless progress she continues to make in all areas.
Environment is everything in education (Maslow's hierarchy of needs and so on). This is a belief that I have held for so much of my life, but, now, as a practicing teacher, I am able to see that its impact in full effect. Though my students' experiences in India are rather different from that which we consider typical for children across the globe, their basic needs are the same. They need care, support, love, hugs, encouragement, nutrition, consistency, safety. I am honored to be part of SCH and to be part of its efforts to provide these things for children who may not have families with the ability to advocate for these needs on their behalf.
So, here we go! Let me try to describe this nugget of happiness as best as I can. Allow me to first assure you that what I write here could never really add up to sufficiently express the magnitude of her incomprehensible beauty.
About her Vision:
Mae is functionally blind, as she has bilateral Microphthalmia. With her visual impairment, she is able to perceive some sources of light and incredibly large forms. Though the amount of vision she has is small, she uses it effectively, especially in her orientation within space and her mobility from place to place. Mae primarily relies on tactile information to participate in activities and interact with her environment. Her auditory sense is her secondary sense, and often uses it in conjunction with her sense of touch to learn from and explore her world.
About her Academic Skills:
Mae has made incredible strides academically, in the past 8 months. I remember in my first few weeks, focusing on small, simple goals I had for her language development and emergent literacy skills. One such goal was for her to more comfortably use her English vocabulary, which she was rather resistant to, initially. Another was for her to hold and open a book properly (she'd hold it upside-down, backwards, tilted, flipping pages from right to left, and so on). Now, as I said above, she is a fluent (and quite loquacious, I might add) English-speaker. She not only interacts with books and stories, but tirelessly creates her own stories about anyone and anything. She is quickly mastering her foundational preschool skills. Here is just a small list of some of her mastered concepts, skills, etc.:
About her ECC Skills:
So, here comes my TVI-ness. In the field of visual impairment education, we TVIs are equipped to instruct students in ECC skills. The ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum) is something I will mention over and over again in my blogs, so here is a simple definition: The ECC skills are the skills individuals with visual impairments need to live independent lives, to successfully interact with the world around them, and to engage with the appropriate learning materials. Depending on the individual's level of vision, their ability to learn through observation is limited to hands-on, interactive instruction. For this reason, specialized educators, provide instruction in the following categories and their respective subsets of skills: (1) assistive technology, (2) compensatory skills, (3) career education, (4) recreation and leisure, (5) orientation and mobility, (6) sensory efficiency, (7) social skills, (8) self-determination, and (9) independent living skills.
Mae has made strides in all of these areas, but in this post, I will focus on her compensatory skills, which is a nebulous area of the ECC that is difficult to succinctly define. The long and the short of this category of the ECC is that it includes skills and concept development that allow students to better engage in academic materials. So, for Mae, this includes her braille and precursory braille skills. In the beginning of my time with her, I worked on simple exposure to braille, then began engaging her in foundational braille skills (tracking braille lines, correct hand-positioning and tracking technique, and so on), all the while aiming to refine her tactual discrimination skills. For a very long time, I was having a difficult time refining these skills, but now, finally, over my visa break in the states, Mae has begun identifying a handful of braille characters! I watched the video of this breakthrough over and over and over again. Since then, Mae shows no sign of slowing down. She can identify a full braille cell (all six dots), the letter A, and the letter S! How amazing is that!
There is so much more I can say about her. So many stories I would love to share, but I think I will end this blog post, telling you about my dreams for Mae's future. Mae will be in India for the rest of her life, which means that she has some serious obstacles to overcome in pursuit of equal treatment, equal education, and equal opportunity. My dream for Mae is for a life of independence, handwork, meaningful relationships, and limitless opportunities. My dream for Mae is that her potential to grow is not stifled by a lack of resources, a lack of understanding, a lack of opportunity.
My dream for her begins with education. She has recently been accepted and registered to a local mainstream school. This school has a long history of successful inclusion of individuals with visual impairments. This school has a reputation for fostering a challenging and engaging educational environment for kiddos with visual impairments just as it does for their sighted peers. This school, unlike other schools in our area, has the experience and resources to better support her education, to continue to propel her forward.
The school Mae will be attending is rather expensive, but is well worth it. Her first term fees (including transportation to the school) costs $1,130. I am confident that through the continued support that we provide her at SCH, alongside the education she will receive her, Mae will flourish. If you are interested in contributing to provide for her education, you can do so by clicking on the button below. Any amount is appreciated!!
Though I am out of practice of blog-writing, it is good to know that I am still longwinded as ever. Thank you for reading this post about one of the most precious hearts I've ever had the honor of knowing. Please consider donating and sharing this with your friends, family, anyone. I hope this blog offered a small window into the blessing it is to know her!
Over & out, readers. Thank you again for reading.