Fiamalamalama empower students with work projects

Staff members of the Aoga Fiamalamalama School for students with intellectual disabilities have initiated new ways of learning by empowering senior students through work employment projects.

The programme will help students prepare for employment and generate ways of earning income when they leave school. 

Part of the diverse work programme is introducing business lessons, creating products, keyhole gardening project, personality development and encouraging creativity as well as autonomy.

Principal Sharon Suhren said students learn through visual and musical support rather than theory. 

The students are working on their products to sell at their store in front of the government building next Friday. 

Ms. Suhren said students learn from one another in creating self-made lavalavas, paper flowers, table mats and jewellery.

 “When one of the students is especially good in creating something, we let him or her teach the other students,” Ms. Suhren said. 

 “They choose the colours for the lavalavas for example, they learn to understand which colours match and how to think in a creative way to realise what looks good to fit customers. Same with jewellery, to learn to think like a woman.

 “We don’t use machines; it is all made by the students. When they have their own business, they know how to do the whole procedure, which is important,” Ms. Suhren said.

 “We try to give the individuals challenges. For example we have one student who is full of energy so we let him do jewellery, which requires sitting for a long time and focusing.”

She explained their keyhole gardening project required students to see how it looks like and how to create it so they can fully understand the project. 

Ms. Suhren said this is also part of their agenda to let the public know that people with intellectual disabilities have a purpose and can also contribute to development. 

Since 2017, the school’s employment projects have provided employment for seven students in a cake shops, Frankie’s and second-hand shops.

 “If they see the possibility of employing them (students) and paying them that is a plus for us. It is slowly getting them (employers) to see that these people can do something,” Ms. Suhren said.

 “It is a new thing sending disabled people out to work. Our culture is about taking care of them same as elderly, they don’t need to work, and we don’t depend on them to earn money. It is our obligation to look after them, they are not expected to go out and do something.”

Proper implementation of the work placements, which requires time, is according to Ms. Suhren, the most important part to build up long-term goals.

She added the placement isn’t a problem because they have two possible placements for this term, but a lack of resources, qualified staff and support is holding the school back in advancing their projects.

 “If we are going to do a placement, we need to have someone going with the student. We have all these other issues that we are facing because we also have to provide for transport etc., which makes it difficult.”

She said their workshop next week with the Ministry of Women is a good opportunity to inform invited parents of their initiatives and to rally their support for the school. 

Ms. Suhren said having students with intellectual disabilities including Down syndrome, autism, other learning and behavioural difficulties be part of the business community is a big step.

She praised the achievement of the school and acknowledged the Government for supporting intellectually disabled people over the years.

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