When coronavirus cases began picking up in Turkey, Derya Uyar, a teacher of children with visual impairments, knew she needed to do something to support her students and their families. So she wrote a short story. Translated from Turkish, it’s called “Elif isn’t afraid of getting sick.”
The story, which Uyar shared with families, tells how a little girl named Elif practices good hygiene and plays with toys at home. It also promotes other good habits for keeping healthy and entertained while in isolation.
“Going remote has been a really difficult process,” says Uyar. “Our students and their parents need support.”
A 2019 graduate of the Perkins International Educational Leadership Program, Uyar received professional training from Perkins the previous year. Her short story is just one example of the creativity shown by program alumni in the face of the coronavirus crisis. In fact, all around the world, graduates have risen to the occasion by finding new ways of empowering their students, families and whole communities.
“That’s what the Educational Leadership Program is all about,” says Marianne Riggio, program director. “Giving special educators the tools they need to empower underserved children, no matter where they’re from, in good times and bad.”
And these stories can be found in nearly every corner of the world.
In Egypt, Amal Ezzat, class of 2015, put together a video demonstrating how parents can create and use tactile symbols to explain to children who are deafblind what’s going on in the world and why schools are closed.
Their work isn’t strictly academic either. Jigna Joshi, ‘19, of India, led a group of mothers to sew protective masks and then distributed them throughout her community.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, 1984 graduate Graciela Ferioli helped spearhead the creation of a virtual chat group of educators and families, giving them a forum to discuss new ways of supporting one another while physically separated. This, she says, was a critical new avenue of support.
“Children with disabilities are among the most affected by school closures so the importance of families supporting families is more relevant than ever,” says Ferioli. “We owe thanks to the Educational Leadership Program and Perkins International for helping us believe in and understand the importance of collaborative work with families.”
In addition to the support they’ve continued to show their students and families, the community of Educational Leadership Program graduates have also continued to encourage one another.
In April, more than 80 graduates convened on Zoom for a discussion about how they’ve been working in their countries and communities. They also shared lessons they’ve learned in overcoming the challenges of remote learning and teaching.
“ELP graduates are stepping up as leaders during the crisis,” says Daniela Gissara, coordinator of online initiatives with the program. “Just as they do everyday.”
And while that work looks different across the world, it’s all in service of the same goal: to ensure children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities and their families have the opportunity to lead fulfilling, engaged lives, no matter where they live.