Gouri Tawady: Learning Disability Awareness Campaign
SEPT 15, 2008 – MAR 15, 2009
LEARNING DISABILITY AWARENESS CAMPAIGN
Gouri Tawady, August 2008 Fellow
Samveda Research and Training Center
Background and Project Vision
The aim of this project is to build awareness on learning disabilities (LD). Samveda is a training center/school that focuses on teaching students with learning disabilities. This is an organization that started with just one student and now runs an entire school all the way up to 10th standard. They have students from all over the country coming to this school. My role in the NGO is to build an awareness campaign for the Davangere area. I have realized that this campaign has to reach a wide range of people and not just teachers, but parents and doctors. I hope to not only give them the knowledge about LD but to empower them to act.
Project Goals and Future Plans
There are so many possibilities with this project. I plan to take on the awareness campaign in several forms, some I have already started. I want to start a parent’s support group/parents teacher association (PTA). Parents a great place to start building awareness because they need understand their child and way he/she faces every day. Teachers are another area that I would like to build awareness for. I plan to visit schools around the area and train teachers on how to identify a child with LD and the steps they can take after they have identified the child. The final area I want to spread awareness is doctors. It will be imperative if pediatricians are able to identify a child with LD at an early age. These are goals for the awareness campaign. I hope to reach the rural areas as well as the town.
I am also working with Samveda on a science book and Kannada Stencils for students who have learning disabilities. I hope to create a whole new science curriculum for students that will not rely on written language and a new method to teach students Kannada letters that relies on shapes and lines.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
The progress for the awareness campaign was slow in the early stages of the fellowship. I spent a great deal of time understanding Samveda philosophy and the methods they use. I also wanted to build relationships with the students and faculty of the NGO. This gave me to have a strong foundation and knowledge to tackle the awareness campaign. When I first applied to this fellowship I thought an awareness campaign would just be for teachers. After spending time here and doing some research I was able to identify key areas, which I listed above, that need to be impacted.
In a prequel to the parents meeting I visited the parent’s homes of the students of Samveda. These visits showed the necessity for a parents support group/PTA. We have been able to conduct several successful parents support group meetings. One meeting even the teachers attended and the parents were able to discuss any issues or concerns they had with the school. This really helped the parents understand Samveda’s philosophy, which I saw as huge disconnect. Another program I helped coordinate was a suicide awareness program. We invited 70 teachers and parents for the workshop where we discussed the epidemic of adolescent suicides. In this program we also discussed how LD might impact this. We received great feedback from this program. I have recently started to target the medical area. I created a survey for the medical student at a local college in Davangere to understand their level of knowledge of LD. This will give me a much better idea of where to being with the awareness in the medical field.
The future holds a lot of possibilities. I plan to continue the parents support group meetings/PTA. I think I have shown the NGO the importance of the parents and their involvement in the school. I would like to start an awareness campaign in the rural areas around Davangere. Here I plan to focus on the parents as well as teachers of the local schools. We will have focus groups to understand their level of knowledge before conducting any programs on awareness. I also am looking forward to digging deeper in to the medical field. I hope to have workshops and programs with them to help build their understanding.
Detailed Goal-setting & Implementation Planning
In the next 2 weeks I will talk the following steps:
1. Conduct a survey with the medical students of a local college. I have to discuss with the principal of the college what I intend to do and get her approval. Next I will survey approximately 150 – 200 students. Then I will analyze the data and present my findings. The findings will reveal what the next steps are.
2. Visit a publisher in Bangalore for the science book. They will give us the final review and edits. Once I incorporate their feedback into the science book the final draft will be done. Next I will test the books on students in the school and make further revisions.
3. Create an outline for the rural awareness campaign.
a. Make a list of focus group decision questions.
b. Identify areas/villages to focus on.
4. Train a teacher on Auto CAD to take over the Kannada stencils project.
a. This will enable the teacher to make changes and even expand on what I have already created. Also if anything needs to be modified when I have left, Samveda has the resources to do it themselves.
b. When they have the time they can also do the same procedure for Hindi letters.
I came to India with what I have understood to be the problem. I believed that the general public and teachers had little knowledge about learning disabilities. I thought the problem was just identifying the child. Once the child was identified getting help would not be an issue. Now I realized that identification is just half the battle. However it is the first step.
There are so many areas that come under this awareness campaign that I see as key factors:
• Gaining acceptance by the parents that their child is not “normal.
• Empowering the parents of learning disabled children with the knowledge to be proactive in their child’s life and education.
• Helping teachers see that just because a child is having difficulty in school not to dismiss him/her but to look deeper into the reason.
• Training teachers and pediatricians to understand what LD are and being able to identify children with learning disabilities.
• Training teachers how to teach a child to learning disabilities.
• Creating general awareness for LD to change the incorrect stereotypes.
I would have never guessed that the medical field would have little or no knowledge about LD. Many of these things came as a shock and I realized I have to open the scope of my project a great deal. I feel that I have really been able to get to the root of some of these issues and have identified several ways to approach them.
This fellowship has tested me in so many ways which has helped me grow. I never thought I would have had the patience to stay in a hostel with 20 boys with learning disabilities or mental challenges. Of course in the begging it was hard not having any personal space or time to myself. However, I was able to embrace this and build an amazing friendship with Sumed, a 7 year old autistic boy. I started to adore these boys and my patience increased 10 folds. Independence was another issue I had. In all my visits to India I was never given any independence for freedom from my family. They sheltered me or as they would say protected me. This year I was given the opportunity to see India for myself. It was a little daunting at first but I was able to pick things up quickly. Not only did I learn the tricks to getting train tickets but I now feel comfortable going to any part of this country and trying to find my way around. I realized it part of the adventure and forces myself to talk to people. Even in the US I was always hesitant to approach people, but now I know the value of just talking to people. I have had some extremely interesting conversations with complete strangers on trains. I think the 30+ hours in the same berth really brings people together. India and this fellowship has brought out characteristic in me that I knew were there but never needed. Therefore I never really pushed myself. This is because I had always been afraid of failure and I know this has limited me a lot. That’s the one thing I can really take away from this experience, to not be afraid to fail and just push myself and see how far my limits can go.