Volunteers making a huge difference at Loto Taumafai

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 31 July 2018, 12:00AM

Progress has been made in providing care and education to children with disabilities in Samoa.

But there’s still a long way to go especially the need to train more teachers of special needs children.

This is a according to Loto Taumafai School Principal, Lagi Natanielu, who says the help of volunteers from the Volunteers Abroad Service have been an invaluable resource for their school in capacity building of the school staff. 

“In the three and a half years I have been at Loto Taumafai as the school principal, V.S.A. has been on point. The volunteer ladies that have come, have gone over and beyond in imparting to us their capacity teaching us skills with teaching children with disabilities in Samoa,” says Mrs. Natanielu. 

“There is no training or service for professional development for teachers. This is our professional development, the expertise from V.S.A. and others who come through our doors and through Jan and other private donors especially what David Nicholson did, they come through and they see what the need is. I want to acknowledge the staff, they work hard with the best that they can and often resources are a limitation.”

Helping out the Loto Taumafai School is volunteer Jan Kennington, who has been in Samoa for five months.  She spent the past 20 years of as a Principal of a special needs school in Auckland, but overall has spent her entire 45-year career teaching children with disabilities.  Speaking to the Samoa Observer she said coming here to Samoa was living out a 45-year-old dream of hers.

 “This was something I wanted to do right at the beginning of my career. Now I’m in a season where I’m free to do this. This is a wonderful year to downsize from that extreme pressure and responsibility I had  and to have a look at the skills I got that I can show to the wonderful young teachers who have not had the opportunity to find out what I’ve been able to spend my whole career doing.”

From both Mrs. Natanielu and Ms. Kennington’s perspective, Samoa is on the cusp of making a progressive leap when it comes to providing services to children with disabilities.

“I think this country is on the brink of good things when it comes to disability.  I’ve been lucky enough to be here and to be invited onto the inclusive education working groups through Lani’s generosity,” said Ms. Kennington. “Samoa is now saying that people with disabilities are really important people and they need to be honoured and they need to be supported to be as independent in their lives as they can be and I’m seeing a Ministry which is trying to help teachers out at government schools to learn more skills.

“If there’s anything more that needs to happen in that arena I would say it probably needs more trainers to train more teachers, currently there aren’t many people working to build up the skill sets of the teachers in the government schools but I take heart from all the organisations that are involved in disability. I think that there’s now an awareness that we have to honour people with disabilities and take any opportunities to learn from anyone who has got some skills and abilities.”

While Ms. Kennington is thoroughly enjoying her volunteer role in Samoa, she does caution that it’s important for those who come through any volunteer programme to understand that what they offer is made to fit for purpose in the respective country. 

“There’s absolutely no point in volunteers coming here and trying to tell teachers what to do,” said Jan. “This about getting alongside people and explaining ways finding out what they need, what they want and weaving it all together new experiences and new expertise. That’s the challenge.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for me to take what I have worked with over many years and discuss them with teachers to help them understand a different way of teaching because children with special needs require a different way of teaching and teachers here are hungry to learn so I think it’s a win-win situation.”

The School Principal of Loto Taumafai couldn’t agree more and said it’s vital to grab the opportunities when people volunteer their skills, expertise and knowledge in any capacity.

“I’ve been here for more than three years and in that time major progress but there’s still a long way to go but we got to look at the positives and look at the bridges and stepping stones been built,” said Mrs. Natanielu said. “I couldn’t do what I’m doing without the help of people like Jan from V.S.A. in my season here.

“Volunteers play a huge role, they bring expertise and knowledge and capacity and really for me I think how we can utilise their expertise and knowledge to fit, to make it relevant in the context of Samoa to see if it will fit because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. They give up their lives to come serve us and I think that’s major for us, I’ve come to learn and appreciate what they do.”

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 31 July 2018, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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