With her feet poised on a slanted wooden board at the base of her chair, 11-year-old Arlen shows off her best dance moves to the rhythm of the drums in a favorite Guatemalan tune. Arlen was born blind, now attends FUNDAL—the first program in Guatemala dedicated to the education of children with multiple disabilities. Not only did FUNDAL provide Arlen with unique learning opportunities, they connected her to a vision specialist. It was that specialist who quite literally shone a light on Arlen that changed her world forever.
Arlen was born in Guatemala in 2001. After eye professionals informed her mother, Ana María, that Arlen was totally blind, she began to seek out resources for her daughter. At the age of five, Arlen began attending school at FUNDAL. Perkins International has been a steadfast supporter of FUNDAL, throughout its transition from a small schoolhouse with three children in 1998 to its development as a national program serving 200 children today.
While Ana María never could have predicted the rate at which Arlen would progress at FUNDAL, her greatest shock came when Perkins International consultant Gabriella Rovezzi paid a visit from Argentina. In February 2008, Rovezzi conducted a training at FUNDAL on the topic of cortical vision. During the training sponsored by Perkins International, Rovezzi called upon some of FUNDAL's students to demonstrate various assessment techniques. Arlen was one of several students chosen to participate and Ana María was invited to attend.
Rovezzi conducted an evaluation of Arlen which took place in a dark room. With Arlen facing her mom, Rovezzi used a flashlight to cast light across Ana María's face. Ana María slowly moved closer, and suddenly, with a mere palm's width between them: success. Seven years after entering this world, Arlen made eye contact with her mom for the very first time.
Ana María recalls that day vividly. "It is a day I will never forget. When I returned home I looked for a children's show on television and Arlen began to watch and open her eyes wider to see more!"
This new discovery has brought much joy to Arlen's family, said Steve Perreault, Perkins International's regional coordinator for Latin America. Arlen continues to communicate through sounds and body movements, but now expresses a greater interest in engaging with those around her. Unlike before, Arlen now turns her head when she hears a familiar voice. Her brothers sit close to her and offer her toys, and Arlen responds with a smile and gestures to her favorites.
Arlen's breakthrough, among other knowledge gained from Rovezzi's visit, inspired several changes at FUNDAL. For children with cortical vision, teaching materials now incorporate greater contrast, flashlights are used to illuminate objects and materials are displayed at a closer proximity. Rovezzi is just one of almost fifty consultants who are part of Perkins International's program—bringing the latest methods on the education of children to more than 400 schools in Latin America.