Nestled among mountains and dirt trails, many villages in Dien Bien province remain very much isolated. For children who live in the area, this often means a lack of access to services or to activities they enjoy. This scarcity only worsens when it comes to children with disabilities. With tenacity and creativity, the Blue Dragon social workers are going the extra mile to change this.
Back in May 2019, Blue Dragon conducted a survey in this northern Vietnamese province. The results were clear: “The services for children with special needs were very limited,” recalls Hieu, who was coordinating Blue Dragon’s activities in the area.
The issues shown by the results of the survey were twofold. On one hand, there were very few activities children with cognitive or physical impairments could join. On the other, the kids were falling behind in school, in part because their teachers lacked the training and skills to provide the kids with the assistance they needed in the classroom.
In light of this, the Blue Dragon set in motion a comprehensive plan to mitigate the situation, which tackled both aspects of the problem.
Understanding is key
With the purpose of providing the teachers with the tools they needed to be able to assist their students with special needs, Blue Dragon organised a training session with a special education expert.
The training helped teachers from two different schools to better understand their students and how to support them, and encouraged the educators to develop activities that would help children with disabilities foster their independence and engage in social interactions.
In order to do all of this, however, it was essential that everyone from Blue Dragon in Dien Bien fully grasped the challenges children with disabilities and their families face. And so, the Blue Dragon staff in the area also attended training and learned different ways to interact with the families and children to better support them.
Music and arts lessons
The training session set the teachers’ imagination in motion, and they quickly came up with the idea of organizing music and arts lessons for children with disabilities. Twice a month, after they finish school, 12 children with cognitive or physical disabilities join this extra class where they get to explore their creative side.
All of them come from very impoverished backgrounds, and in some cases, the kids had never picked up a paintbrush.
With this class, for a few hours every month, the children not only have a chance to express themselves through art, but also to “develop their interpersonal skills,” says Hieu. Little by little, by getting to know their classmates in a relaxed environment where the main aim is for the kids to have fun, the students start socializing more comfortably.
As part of the plan to transform the lives of children and teenagers with disabilities in the province, Blue Dragon provides direct support for children with special needs. For instance, by teaching sign language to children who are deaf or have hearing impairments, and by providing career training and referring job opportunities to teenagers who are ready to enter the workforce.
More than half a year after launching these activities, the efforts have started to bear fruit. The improvement in inclusion in Dien Bien is already palpable. According to My, a social worker and sign language teacher at Blue Dragon, a “great” result is seeing how “teachers and parents have gradually become more caring and willing to support children with special needs.”