Published on 24th October 2014
It’s “little lunch” at Callan Services in Kokopo. Outside, VSA volunteer Liv Loftus has rounded up the 30 or so kids in class and, with teacher Carol Norogua, is leading them through hectic games of “Cat and Mouse” and “What’s the Time Mr Wolf?” The children are energetic and giggly – the plan, says Liv “is to tire them out, but it never works. They’re still running around and I’m exhausted!”
Callan Services is a Special Education Resource Centre, providing inclusive services to people with disabilities. Historically, attitudes in Papua New Guinea towards people with disabilities have been poor. The country’s National Disability Resource and Advocacy Centre (NDRAC) states that there are about 975,000 people with disabilities in PNG. “Of this group, about 2% receive services.”
The key challenge, according to the NDRAC, is that “the attitudes and structures that exist in society not only negatively affect the health and social well-being of people with disabilities, but limit their opportunities to participate in society.”
Papua New Guinea ratified the United Nations Conventions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2013.
Callan Services, which has branches all over PNG and Bougainville, has been working for more than 20 years to change attitudes. Pius Norogua, Programme Manager for Callan Kokopo, says the inclusive nature of their programme is important. Early intervention classes start at the age of three, “to motivate the children”. Classes are a 50/50 mix of children with and without disabilities, he says, in part so that children without disabilities develop empathy and understanding. “Later, when they grow up they’ll have developed trust with disabled people, and maybe help them.”
VSA has been working with Callan Services for a decade. Previous volunteers have worked to fundraise for Callan’s projects, taken part in ear/eye screening in remote areas, undertaken community awareness programmes and organised donations of equipment such as wheelchairs.
Teacher Carol Norogua has been with Callan Services in Kokopo for six years and in that time has worked with several volunteers. She says “with VSA helping us, it’s very good to experience different strategies for how to help children with special needs in the classroom.
“With new activities and lessons, I am learning from them and they are learning from me at the same time.”
UniVol Gabby Banks introduced learning through play during her assignment in 2013 – ordinarily learning in schools, even preschools here, has been very much by rote, with a teacher lecturing from the front of the room. When we arrive, the children are stringing beads – learning organisational and fine motor skills. As Liv calls them to order, they fight to hold her hand in the circle before singing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
Vinnie Roberts is volunteering with Callan as Management and Administration Adviser (Disabilities). Callan had lost their financial officer, so she’d taken on that role, too, until Laurence, who’d been Financial Officer with Callan’s national office, arrived in March. Vinnie says “he’s been a lifesaver. I’m glad he’s here.”
Vinnie’s worked with local businesses to get financial support for crucial expenses – the latest purchase is a new copier/fax machine for the office.
Their major project over the last couple of years has been an optician’s clinic, which anyone in the community can access for eye checks and new glasses.
The optician’s clinic has recently hired two new technicians: Bosco and Fidelis are puzzling over a broken lens grinder when we visit. They both have disabilities, and are fully employed by Callan.
Vinnie says “the Optical Centre is our income base…it’s really been topping up Callan when we’ve got no money.”
At the moment, she adds, not a lot of people know about it, so the next step is publicity. In PNG, that normally means word of mouth. Indeed, VSA’s new programme officer Rela Mesulam, who lives in Kokopo, is quick to say she’ll be bringing her Mum for her next check-up.