Two hearts, one mission: Tale of hope for children
TEA with Seb and Ngone
DIMAPUR — In a quiet corner of Kohima’s Sepfuzoü colony, a vision conceived through shared prayers and determination manifested into the Tabitha Enabling Academy (TEA).
Established by two friends, Asanuo Seb and Vekutilu Vese Ngone, TEA has evolved into more than just a school for children with disabilities; it is a sanctuary built on compassion and a commitment to providing opportunities for the marginalised.
The genesis of TEA traces back to when Seb and Ngone were studying at Oriental Theological Seminary, Bade, in Chümoukedima. Driven by a shared calling, the duo would spend time in prayer every Thursday, harbouring dreams of a collaborative ministry.
“We had in mind to work with children and had been praying for that. But to come up with an institution and to work with children with disabilities was not on our mind,” Seb recalled.
The realisation unfolded during their subsequent training, where they recognised the significant gap in opportunities available to persons with disabilities in Nagaland.
“Many of our children have been kept aside or kept hidden and it’s like a taboo. We realised that we should break this barrier and give them an opportunity, because as long as we give them an opportunity, they are able to do and be independent. That’s how we started,” Ngone shared.
Seb went on to share that they were impacted by the way a professor took care of her daughter with Down syndrome, whose distinctive approach to teaching and caring for the girl set her apart from other families facing similar situations.
The professor ensured that her daughter received the necessary medical attention and proper care, highlighting a stark contrast in the outcomes for children with disabilities when provided with opportunities and essential support.
Inspired by this, Seb and Ngone, though initially unsure of how to proceed, embarked on a journey to initiate their mission by taking proper training to better understand and address the unique needs of children with disabilities.
Upon returning from training, they took a hands-on approach by visiting homes in search of children with disabilities, providing tuition to them on a home-based basis for a year. Realising the challenges of this door-to-door approach, they conceived the idea of establishing a centralised location for teaching. This vision materialised when the Chakhesang Baptist Church in Kitsubozou allowed them to use a Sunday school classroom.
“After starting the class, we realised (that) they can be trained; they are teachable and educable, and that has motivated us more to help them,” said Seb, who specialises in intellectual disability.
‘A place to feel loved and cared’
Their initial objective was to convey the message of the gospel through the institution, as Ngone explained: “We wanted to let them know about the love of Christ, to let them feel that this is a place where they are loved and cared for. Mostly, our children are un-churched; they don’t get the opportunity to go to Sunday school. We make sure that this is the place where they come and learn. We remind ourselves that this is not just any other work but it’s the mission of God. We tell our employees that it should be a missionary work and not just for a job or a salary.”
The school had only two children with disabilities, whom they taught on a home-based basis, when it was first started in 2012. Over the course of a decade, TEA’s enrollment grew to over 30 students, including both regular and home-based attendees.
In 2023, a total of 25 children with disabilities attended school regularly, while 10 children with severe disabilities were provided home-based learning. The academy also has over 10 teaching and non-teaching staff, including a teacher and staff with disabilities.
Ngone, who specialises in hearing impairment, acknowledged that teaching children with disabilities is a challenging task. “Getting trained to teach is one aspect. One has to have commitment, patience, and passion to handle them,” she said.
According to the co-proprietors, the academy received mixed reactions initially, with some parents seeing it as a source of relief, having harboured emotions for many years without an outlet, and willingly opened up to them. There were also parents who hesitated to share their experiences and were less inclined to open up.
While most parents have since opened up, a lingering challenge persists as some still exhibit a preference for their ‘normal’ children over those with disabilities. This manifests in various aspects, including educational opportunities, social gatherings, and outdoor activities, Seb underscored.
How children are taught
In terms of teaching methods, Seb shared that each student follows an individualised education programme (IEP), crafted to address their specific needs. The teaching staff, maintaining a ratio of 1:3, employs the IEP framework to address various skills, including social and daily living skills.
Ngone said that students are unable to join mainstream schools due to the severity of their disabilities.
Delving into the teaching methodologies, she said that conventional approaches, like teaching the alphabet may not be effective. Instead, the focus is on practical life skills, such as expressing their needs, toileting, face washing, mouth wiping, and dressing themselves. Teachers maintain detailed records of each child’s progress, introducing new skills based on achieved milestones. She went on to highlight the existence of both short-term and long-term goals in this educational approach.
‘Besides teachers, assistants are required, and the institution employs professionals in speech therapy and physiotherapy, staff with a B.Ed. in special education, vocational instructors, sign and language instructors, among others. All these professionals collaborate to provide comprehensive support and contribute to the overall development of the children,’ she said.
Early intervention is key
Ngone emphasised the crucial role of early intervention in supporting children with disabilities to help them adjust with their environment.
Highlighting the importance of proper medical attention in the early years, she pointed out that conditions like cerebral palsy require essential interventions such as physiotherapy during childhood. However, due to a lack of adequate medical attention, particularly in rural areas, some children with disabilities miss out on early interventions that could have prevented or mitigated their conditions.
This delayed intervention often results in slower progress, she said, adding that many parents anticipate immediate healing and lose hope when quick improvements are not observed.
Pointing out that some parents find difficult to accept their child’s disability even after medical examination by doctors, Seb encouraged parents to seek professional help early on.
‘Awareness isn’t enough’
Ngone pointed out that while awareness about discrimination against people with disabilities is growing, simply being aware and not doing anything is not enough.
The society needs to take a step forward and start taking action, she said, calling for inclusion of children with disabilities in church settings, particularly in Sunday school.
While focus is on inclusion of children with disabilities in schools, Ngone raised the critical issue of insufficient training for educators in the field of special education. She pointed out that despite the emphasis on inclusive education, the shortage of trained teachers hampers effective inclusion in both private and government schools in the state.
The duo has an aspiration to establish a residential school for children with disabilities in future, and extend the service to children from other districts, which has been restricted due to financial constraints.
While progress has been made in raising awareness about the inclusion of children with disabilities, they acknowledged that there is still much work to be done, and TEA continues to strive towards achieving its goals.
“For most of them, complete healing may not be possible but a form of healing comes when we include them in all aspects of life,” Ngone said.
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