1. a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task
  2. a person who works for an organization without being paid

This past July, just prior to the IASE conference in Lushoto, The Toa Nafasi Project was lucky enough to host not one or even two, but FOUR volunteers, all of whom are qualified special education experts.  I’ve written a bit about them in previous blog entries and posted snippets from their stay on social media, but I wanted to take a moment to wrap up our experience with them in a proper blog post.

Shuna Lewis came to us from Oakland, California with a Bachelor degree in Sociology, and a Master of Education in Teaching with a Specialization in Autism.  Shuna also has a degree in Bilingual, Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development.

Also from Oakland is Stacey Abram whose Bachelor’s is in Liberal Studies and Master’s in Special Education.

Shuna and Stacey led their trainings as a team while our two other volunteers, Elizabeth Ross and Diana Au, did the same.  We split up the Toa tutoring staff into two groups as we are now too many people to hold trainings for everyone at the same time, and the volunteer teams switched groups for four days just before the IASE conference which they also attended.

Stacey prepares materials while Shuna speaks to the group and Ema translates.

Hyasinta and Shuna in deep discussion.

Shuna’s trainings (she led the sessions while Stacey acted as support) focused on how teachers can help their students to be better learners, whether through attitude adjustments and positive affirmations, or movement and body work.

Shuna talks about how a teacher’s attitude affects her students.

What IS more important?

Anxious minds and restless bodies do not a good learner make.  Shuna points out that when the kids start to wriggle and writhe, teachers should take note and instead of forcing them to focus, give them the break they clearly need.

Shuna and Stacey’s trainings were well-received (thanks to Ema’s stellar translations in part) and Mwalimu Rehema expresses her gratitude on behalf of the staff.

Our other group of trainers mentioned above were Elizabeth and Diana.  Elizabeth is a special education teacher with a focus on inclusion in Houston, Texas.  She recently earned her Master’s in autism and is looking forward to putting that to good use.  She was the first of the four volunteers to reach out to Toa Nafasi with the news that they had applied for a grant through Fund For Teachers to attend the IASE conference.

Among other things, it was a pleasure to work with Ema during this time – Kaitlin and Augustino managed the other groups of tutors – as his ability to understand complex yet subtle concepts in a second language and translate them back for our staff was remarkable.

As a diagnostician, Elizabeth talked about dyslexia and ways in which teachers can help correct students who confuse their letters.

She also talked about dysgraphia whereby students have trouble planning their pages spatially.

Mwalimu Doreen M. nailed it when Elizabeth asked about the third most well-known learning disability: dyscalculia.

Diana is a speech therapist working with students kindergarten-age through 12th grade in California.  She holds a Bachelor degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and a Master’s in Special Education with a focus in Assistive Technology.  She is also working towards a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology.  Similarly to Stacey, Diana took a more supportive position during her trainings with Elizabeth, but she did get to show the staff a few ways of incorporating sound into lessons on how to read.

Ema does translating duty for Diana as she discusses articulation.

Our new friend, Bibbi Larsliden, herself a special education expert from Sweden and also in town for the IASE conference, joined us for this last day of training when Elizabeth ran a movement group to Pharrell Williams’ hit song, Happy.

All in all, I think the Toa Nafasi staff really enjoyed the groups and appreciated the effort the volunteers made to impart some new ideas and techniques to them.  Whether listening in big groups or discussing among themselves in small cohorts, the tutors seemed energized by the concepts they were learning and excited that, all over the world, there are people just like them helping students to overcome their learning difficulties.

What do we suppose Ema is saying to Kaitlin in the back that’s causing her to chuckle so?  😉

Some serious faces going on here.

Mwalimu Noela (wearing the headwrap) looks perplexed while Walimu Graceanna, Happyness, and Victoria M. also get to thinkin’.

Mwalimu Glory C. looking like her beautiful self as Mwalimu Doreen M. tries out a new concept on Walimu Haika and Oliva.