Carlow in Uganda: Special Education Team Offers Training and Hope

The following is the final installment of our three-part story on Carlow's involvement in supporting and transforming lives of people in Uganda. To learn more about our student and faculty work in this important region, read the Winter 2014 issue of Carlow University Magazine today.

In 2013, Mary Burke, PhD, professor and director of Carlow's doctoral program in counseling psychology, and Susan O'Rourke, EdD, professor of education and director of Carlow's special education program, were invited to Uganda to evaluate possibilities for teacher training in special needs education.   

UGANDA Students

Students crowd around shared resources in a busy Ugandan classroom.

"[Ugandan] Children with disabilities are often referred to as 'hidden children,' explains O'Rourke, "given the cultural belief that mothers who give birth to a disabled child are cursed."

"The stigma associated with not only being disabled but giving birth to a child with a disability serves to ostracize both the child and the mother from society," she adds, "confining them in their home to care for the child and hide themselves."

In 2014, Burke and O'Rourke traveled to Uganda twice, taking teams of educators, including doctoral candidates Leah Russell, Nicole Currivan, and Katie McIntyre; Carlow early childhood education master's candidate Emily Atheson; and Carlow adjunct education instructor Pauline Greenlick. Internationally-recognized mural artist Kyle Holbrook and American educator/magicians Kevin Spencer and Mike Thompson also made the journey, providing arts-based therapeutic training for teachers, administrators, government officials, parents, and caregivers.

The team was assisted by a $5,000 grant from the Grace Ann Geibel Institute for Justice and Social Responsibility, with the hopes of providing not only education and instruction, but also hope and joy. They offered 16 days of workshops, providing support for parents, training for teachers, and information about increasing access to inclusive schools. 

They also designed an Arts Day at Bright Kids Uganda, a children's home in Entebbe, inviting children to paint, learn magic tricks, and role play with finger puppets—the first time in Bright Kids' history that volunteers planned fun-filled activities for children at the home. Children with disabilities were encouraged to join their typically developing peers for a truly inclusive event.

UGANDA Arts Day
Students crowd around magician and educator Kevin Spencer during "Arts Day."

Other efforts included development of a community-based curriculum that went hand-in-hand with the creation of a school garden. 

"We needed to design a curriculum that could allow students of all abilities to participate and develop valuable skills, at the same time providing them with food," says O'Rourke.

At the St. Francis School for the Blind in the city of Soroti, the team adapted keyboards for students who are blind or visually impaired, training 10 teachers how to effectively use a recently donated computer resource room

UGANDA Keyboards
O'Rourke provides training in the new computer resource room.

And, using materials purchased with funds they had raised themselves, the team mixed the mortar for cement blocks from scratch - literally setting the foundation in place - for an inclusive school where 130 children are already enrolled. 

"The movement to include these children, who were previously discarded and hidden, into schools is a positive step-one in which we're making a difference," says O'Rourke.


 To learn more about Carlow University's involvement in the lives of women, men, and children throughout Uganda, read the full article in the Winter 2014 issue of the Carlow University Magazine

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