Cotolengo Institute

I thought that there wasn’t a lot going on last week, except that when I look back at it, there was actually quite a bit happening, so maybe the lack of blog is more a reflection on the inspiration to write it, rather than a total absence of potential content.
Two mornings a week I’ve been going and helping out at the special school where our kid from the village attends. He goes with the littlies in the afternoon, but since our own kid is at nursery in the mornings, it makes sense for me to help out with the teens in the mornings sans offspring. As I suspected, it’s not the best educational establishment in the world. It’s on the same site as a home for adults, think Victorian institution; long wards with two feet of space between the many beds; forty in the women’s room, and probably the same again in the men’s (I haven’t been in the male wing yet). The grounds are large and green, with chickens in one corner. For some residents, I suspect it isn’t a terrible existence; there are a couple of cheery souls who can be found wandering the grounds greeting anyone they meet. One of the ladies takes on simple sewing jobs, and gets paid accordingly. The more disabled residents, I fear, rarely see the light of day. I’d prefer it to being homeless, but only just. But, credit where it’s due, it’s a charitable venture, in a country where “what will happen to my disabled offspring after I go?” is still a question which doesn’t have many answers.

That was a side-track, I’m not actually involved in the home, the school is a newer wing, I think it only opened last year. Most of the pupils have multiple disabilities, and usually from families with wider social needs. State-run special schools here tend to take the kids who would just about drop off the bottom of a mainstream school in the UK, so kids with more complex needs often rely on somebody funding them in a private school, or they don’t go to school at all (I think I’m still right in saying that in Argentina an IQ of below 70 labels you “uneducable”, certainly that was the case a couple of years ago). So, all power to the Cotolengo’s elbow for responding to a wide-open need. Hence we’ll gloss over the quality of the educational activities, and just mention in passing the comment made by a staff member that kid X “isn’t a child who we would expect to learn as such”, which I guess fits in with the <70 thing. I do find it more than slightly galling that technically I’m not qualified to teach here, since according to Argentina at least, I don’t have any recognisable professional qualifications, (nor have I finished secondary school). However, as an optimist, I’m still holding out a glimmer of hope that the qualification thing will be resolved at some stage before I reach retirement age, and/or that someone will see fit to employ me to do something, with or without the bits of paper. Meanwhile, I’m volunteering at the Cotolengo educational institute for these two mornings a week, and they’re giving me a free rein to do more or less whatever I like. Mostly I’ve been getting to know the kids, and thinking “if I was going to work one to one with you, what would we prioritise”, which is interesting in an academic sort of way. The really big need that I can see pretty much across the board is for alternative communication, which is conspicuous by its total absence; there seems to be an assumption that those who don’t speak don’t have anything to say. So I’m thinking about photos, picture cards, symbols, and whatever else I might be able to invent, and hopefully in the next few weeks we might even start to put a few priorities into practise.

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