It was clear that Benito Menni School was also embracing the things that it had learned from Whitefield. “When we first visited in 2012, the differences in teaching style and the way that the students were perceived in the community were very apparent ” Joanne explains. While Whitefield tends to encourage independence in students letting them ‘have a go’ even if the results weren’t perfect, the Benito Menni approach was more complex. In the classroom, lessons commonly involved students watching and studying passively. “On the one hand students were allowed to use machetes in the vegetable garden and razor blades to trim palm leaves to make brooms, on the other there was nervousness about them using scissors in the classroom, it seemed quite incongruous to us back then”.
Moreover cultural attitudes to disability made the schools work difficult, some families revealed a sense of shame at having a child with special needs and there were times where buyers at the market simply refused to buy the items from the school, once they found out who had crafted them.
On the most recent trip however, there was something of a transformation. The school’s principal, Sister Odile Edoh has been working hard on finding ways to bolster the students’ independence. Not only did the students cook meals for the visiting teachers, but all the activities around the meal had been woven into a learning opportunity with the students making shopping lists, learning about money and then visiting the local market to buy food from the stalls – which is now a fortnightly event. As a result attitudes towards the students – and the way that students thought about themselves – are beginning to shift. “It was clear that attitudes in the market are changing” says Joanne “the students were enjoying themselves and the people in the community could see what they are capable off”.
Other changes at the school include an apparent strengthening of partnership with parents and a move to try and build places for the adult students at the school to live independently.
“It was wonderful to see the way things are moving” Joanne says, “We look forward to seeing where our continued partnership takes both schools in 2015”.
At the market
Working in the garden
The finished product drying in the sun.
The finished product!