Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is the easy-to-read memoir of a remarkable little Yemeni girl, Nujood Ali, who was both married and divorced before she was 11 years old.

10-year-old Nujood had just started her second year of school when her father announced he’d accepted an acquaintance’s request to marry her.

“One less mouth to feed,” Nujood heard her father tell her mother. Besides, the 30-year-old husband had promised “not to touch” Nujood until she was older.

Yemen’s vague child-marriage laws permitted the marriage and their religion seemed to encourage it. Two weeks later, the men of both families got together and signed the papers.

Immediately, Nujood's husband broke his promise “not to touch” her, and he beat her every night to make her comply. She cried to his family for help, but her mother-in-law only told her son to beat Nujood harder.

The story might stay there – as it does for many child brides around the world.
But Nujood is no ordinary little girl. How she fought for – and won -- a divorce is astonishing and inspiring.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced will open your eyes to the prevalence and horror of child marriages in so many parts of the world, but it will do more than that.
The courage of this one little girl, and the kindness and conviction of the adults who helped her, will also give you hope: when we perform simple acts of bravery and kindness for those who are vulnerable, we truly can change our world.
By Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui, published by Three Rivers Press, New York.

-- Reenie

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Principal's Award

My little friend, Todd, has autism. He’s overcome many autism-related challenges, but following directions and doing what an adult tells him to do are still very hard. And since school life consists chiefly of those two things, school has been a tough place for Todd.

From Kindergarten to Grade Four, Todd fought school every single day. He fought getting ready, getting into the van to ride to school, getting out of the van, and walking into class.

And every morning, as his parents got him into class and drove away to work, they wondered if they’d get another phone call from the school, telling them their son’s behaviour was once again out of control, and they had to come and pick him up now.
Teachers and support staff worked hard to help Todd, but it got worse, never better.

A year ago, when Todd finished elementary school, his parents feared middle school would be an even greater disaster.
As the school year began, their fears seemed justified. Todd resumed his daily going-to-school battles with intensity.

But his parents noticed that this school did things a little differently.
First of all, they narrowed their objectives for Todd to one – that he would enjoy school.

They also asked for, and listened to, Todd’s parents’ perspective on his challenges.
His parents noticed that this school treated kids with special needs like part of the student body, rather than an addition to it.

Over time, they saw the school staff try out lots of different strategies to help Todd, but if an idea didn’t work, they’d try something different. They didn’t give up.
They were grateful for the school’s approach – and amazed when Todd began to respond differently.

His going-to-school battles became less frequent and less intense. They received fewer calls from the school, telling them to pick him up early. Remarkably, Todd began to tell happy stories about school.
His parents and teachers had achieved their impossible goal. Todd liked school!

Fast forward eight months. In May, Todd’s parents were thrilled when his teacher gave Todd the monthly Grade 5 classroom award. She told how Todd would get up in class and dance, encouraging his classmates to dance with him. She spoke of the joy Todd gave to her and his classmates and expressed her gratitude that he was in her class.
Todd – giving joy to his classmates? Todd – a delight to his teacher? It seemed too good to be true.

Then, in June, at a school-wide award ceremony, Todd received an even greater honor -- The Principal’s Award – for making the greatest improvement in school.
It was like the fulfillment of a dream – a dream they hadn’t dared to imagine.

When I asked Todd what he’d done to earn the Principal’s Award, he said, “I had to wait in line.” His tone emphasized that this is hard work! When I pressed him for more, he said only, “I think we’re good.”
In a strange way, it seems appropriate that Todd has no real idea why he won the Principal’s Award. I believe he’s not the one who did most of the work.

The school staff who honoured Todd with the award should have been the ones to receive it. He only reaped the benefits of their commitment and determination, while they gave him the credit.
Since the beginning of time, that's what teachers have been doing.

Thank you, teachers! 

-- Reenie

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let All The Children Come

If you’re a teacher or ministry leader who wants to include children with special needs without radically changing the program for everybody else, Let All the Children Come To Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries is for you.

I was drawn by the book’s title and then hooked by the preface -- a retelling of each author’s personal connection to a child with special needs.

What brought me to devour the entire book, refer to it frequently and recommend it often, is that it’s quick-to-read, easy-to-follow, and loaded with practical information.

Each of the authors -- MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth – is a specialist in the field, and could have written an important (but perhaps boring) reference book on the subject. Instead, their book presents inclusion in a way we can all understand, motivates us to work toward that goal, and gives us practical tools and strategies to accomplish it.

The authors are clear about their conviction that every child can learn, so it’s our duty to teach them. At the same time, they emphasize that “good teaching is good for everyone”. The best inclusion is inclusion that meets everyone’s learning needs.

The book’s tools include lists of strategies for encouraging positive behaviour, a chart of the strengths and learning styles of multiple intelligences (ways of being smart), and descriptions of the challenges faced by students with specific types of disabilities. There are many, many more – all as useful when teaching typically-developing children as when teaching children with special needs.

I strongly recommend this book, but with one small “disclaimer”. In contrast with the book’s overall tone of warmth and acceptance, there are a few places in which the authors use language that makes me wince.

For instance, in Jerry’s retelling of a Bible story (p.21), he describes leprosy as a “dreaded, ugly and usually contagious disease” and a “disgusting affliction”. We now know leprosy is not highly-contagious, and, more than that, I think he could have used words that are more appropriate than “disgusting” and “ugly”.
On another occasion, MaLesa says of a young lady with cerebral palsy, “Looking at Sarah is almost painful.” Here, too, she could have used more sensitive language.
These isolated, regrettable word choices contrast with the book’s prevailing message that every child is precious and we must allow “all the children to come” to a life of faith. One of my favorite passages says “The first duty of (the teacher of the child with special needs) is to look at her as a whole and complete child of God...She has as much to offer us as we have to offer her.”
With that, I wholeheartedly agree.
-- Reenie
(Let All the Children Come to Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries; MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth; NexGen, Cook Communications Ministries, Paris, Ontario, 2006)