Mariam Shenoda never expected to become a special educator.
Five years ago, the resident of Sohag, Egypt, hoped to earn a doctorate degree in psychology and find an academic job at her local university.
A chance encounter changed everything. After church one morning, Shenoda met Abanoub and Kerolos, teenage brothers who are both deafblind.
“That’s how it all started,” said Shenoda, a member of Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program (ELP) Class of 2017. “The brothers were seated off to the side of the room and a caregiver was feeding them. There was no communication or interaction. I imagined that they were my own children. What would I be feeling as a mother?”
Convinced that Abanoub and Kerolos could have a better life, Shenoda started researching deafblindness. She hasn’t stopped since.
“I chose multiple disabilities as my new field of study,” she said. “I love working with these children. And I am always ready to learn more.”
Shenoda now works as a special educator for Caritas Egypt, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to supporting marginalized populations, including children with a wide range of disabilities.
As an ELP participant, Shenoda feels like the campus of Perkins School for the Blind is her second home. She is using her nine-month stay at Perkins to immerse herself in advanced techniques for teaching children with multiple disabilities and deafblindness.
“The teamwork here at Perkins is amazing,” said Shenoda. “The children have many people working with them. I thank God for being here. Perkins has a big place in my heart.”
Her guiding strategy for interacting with children who are deafblind is simple.
“I imagine myself as the child,” said Shenoda. “And I just think, if I can’t see or hear, how would I try to communicate?”
This strategy paid off back home with Abanoub, who lost his sight and hearing at age 8. Using tactile sign language, Shenoda was able to get him to recite letters of the Arabic alphabet – a breakthrough that shocked the teen’s caregivers and changed their outlook on his future.
“Abanoub guided me,” said Shenoda. “He is very smart. There was a lot going on in his brain, but people didn’t know how to reach him.”
When she returns to Egypt this spring, Shenoda plans to train her colleagues in deafblind education and use her new insights to improve services for children and their parents.
Her ultimate goal is to open a school for children with multiple disabilities and visual impairment – the first of its kind in Egypt.
“I see the future of my children here at Perkins,” said Shenoda. “I now have so many people to support me. And I now have hope and energy to make this happen in my country.”