Hi all! Annie and Sam back again, reporting on our last full day in Addis.
We started our day at the Joy Autism Center, part of the NIA foundation and the first school for children with autism in Ethiopia. The Joy Autism Center was founded 13 years ago by Zemi. Her wonderful son Jojo, whom we had the pleasure of meeting, is on the autism spectrum. In addition to teaching 80 children at their school, the Joy Autism Center also advocates for the rights of people with autism. When Zemi’s son got his diagnosis, she learned that it wasn’t a rare disorder, and wondered why she never saw other children with autism out in the community. She soon learned that many children with autism were being kept in their homes without access to education or socialization, and was inspired to create a place for them to learn. The stigmas associated with disability in the US are present here as well, and without a national special education program, children need advocates like Zemi.
The school was in a sunny and lovely building, with fully equipped classrooms and dedicated therapy rooms. We were given a full tour and walked through an average day. We were particularly struck by the integration of communication into all of the activities. In addition to regular class time, the children receive a variety of therapies. There are no designated speech therapists on staff, due to the shortage of formally trained SLPs in Ethiopia. However, each teacher is trained in all of the therapy programs developed by the school.
We were thrilled to be able to contribute something by training the staff on Stories for Effective Communication at the end of our visit. After our crash course, the teachers collectively crafted a sample Story for Effective Communication for one of their students. The teachers and staff expressed enthusiasm about incorporating this strategy into their classrooms.
We spent a lovely couple of hours picking up some last minute souvenirs around Addis on our way home from the school. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a few hours spent with the incredible Dr. Rick Hodes, who has been living in Ethiopia for the past 24 years saving countless lives. It is hard to express how inspiring it was for us to sit with this man (and a few of the children he is hosting at his home as they recover from spinal surgery) and to hear about his work. Please visit his website, and check out the documentaries (Making the Crooked Straight and Zemene, to name a couple of notable ones) floating around out there about his work!
We know we speak for everyone when we say that this trip has been a transformative experience. It has been a privilege to meet and work with all of the wonderful people at the 4 sites we have visited. We have learned more than we can post on this blog, and fallen in love with Ethiopia along the way.
Thanks for following our journey, and see you back in NY!