Monday, November 30, 2009

A Letter from BU Grad Yael Shapira from Southern India

Dear Prof. McSweeney,

I just wanted to send a quick update from India, since I have recently been thinking about you quite often in the context of my work.

Two weeks ago I began an internship with the NGO Aide et Action (it deals with education, especially of people in the rural areas). The specific project I'm working on at this point is evaluating the implementation of inclusive education programs for children with disabilities. I just came back from a week out in the villages, in Andhra Pradesh, where I went to government schools and interviewed students, teachers, mandal leaders, and self-help groups of people with disabilities. The point was to find out if the students are actually being included in the mainstream education and if they are still facing any discrimination. My findings were really fascinating.

With a self-help group for disabled people.

"Inclusive Education" is one of the methods of implementing the "education for all" law here in India. With regards to children with disabilities, it entails getting children out of their houses, work, or special education schools and including them into mainstream classrooms. It is an approach that requires the school to adapt to the child's needs, rather than an integration approach in which the child has to adapt to the rest of the class.

After going out into the villages and conducting many interviews, I found that the children with disabilities have indeed been identified and taken out of their homes to attend the mainstream schools. Awareness has been created by NGOs to rid of superstitions and discrimination. As a first step that is very important. However, these children are merely being integrated and their special needs are not being taken care of in order for them to get a real education and to achieve their rights.

With a classroom that has children with disabilities.

I also got to meet villagers living in a temporary tent community because their village and crops were destroyed in recent floods. It made me realize how important disaster relief work is, and I am pretty sure that I am going to focus on that in my future studies.

I want to let you know that I felt as if everything I learned in the Gender and International Development class came to life right in front of me. It was such an incredible experience to actually be out in the field and talking to people about their experiences instead of just reading about them in a textbook, and I was truly inspired by so many of the people. Your class really prepared me for dealing with so many of the issues I am coming across (such as child labor, girls in school, etc.) and I would really like to thank you for that.

All the best,