Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Changing Lives One Project at a Time

There's so much to share with everyone this week I'm not even sure where to start! I am going to have to save some of it for anther post... First, for the big news this week! After several months of careful planning, meetings, research and prayer we recently had what we hope to be our most impactful project so far approved. As we have indicated previously, the state of education for children with disabilities in Bosnia is dismal. Federal regulation of the educational rights of  these children is non-existent. There are no public school early intervention programs, there is no systematic screening process. Many teachers are ill equipped to accommodate special needs in the classroom due to lack of education. We hope to initiate change. We hope to make a difference.
The smiling face in the middle will be one
of the beneficiaries of our newest project!

This project will fundamentally change the way children with developmental disabilities are identified and educated throughout Bosnia. LDS Charities will sponsor two intense three-day workshops for 40 special needs educators from 10 different centers focused on children with disabilities located throughout Bosnia. The workshops, conducted by EDUS (acronym for Educate Us),  and follow-up support will provide special educators with training, assessment tools and a systematic curriculum for teaching children with developmental disabilities. There are few educational opportunities for professionals working with children with disabilities. Because inclusion of children with special needs in the public-school system is virtually non-existent at this time, most educators working with these children do so through small NGOs founded by parents and/or educators with little support from the government. Attending training workshops is cost prohibitive for most NGOs due to limited financial resources. Educators will be able to attend the workshops expense free.

In addition to the ten centers who will participate in the training, we will partner with Sarajevo-based NGO EDUS. EDUS is the result of the joint effort of parents of children with disabilities and American-Bosnian educator Dr. Nirvana Pištoljević, who wished to disseminate her knowledge and expertise acquired in the U.S. to help children in Bosnia. Dr. Pištoljević obtained her doctorate in special education and applied behavioral analysis from Columbia University in NY. She is a published researcher and respected lecturer throughout the world. She is actively engaged in instigating change to improve the quality of education available to all children. And, as we were meeting I mentioned that I had been volunteering at Riders of Hope and it turns out, she was an integral partner in the founding of the program! Her involvement now is limited as she is very busy trying to change educational practices in many parts of the world but it's fun to have that connection!

The team from EDUS works with centers and schools to provide a scientifically proven model of education for all children, training of professional educators, training and support to parents and scientific cooperation with the professional community. Recent studies have shown that the methods taught at the workshop are 4-7 times more effective than conventional educational methods, especially in children with developmental disabilities. Many schools in the U.S. use this system and it is now being adopted throughout the world. The method also includes training parents and other professionals working with children, making it an all-inclusive program that reaches far beyond the classroom. Once trained, special educators will share their knowledge with other educators in their respective locations, ultimately changing the way children with disabilities throughout Bosnia are educated. 

The project includes training of special educators from our partner centers, follow-up support, data collection and reporting of measurable outcomes, with the intention of publishing the end results. Because of the positive results EDUS has had with children in Sarajevo, they are now working in collaboration with the Sarajevo Ministry of Education. They have been given space in public schools, received financial assistance for teacher salaries and are working towards further inclusion for children with special needs in the public classrooms in Sarajevo.While it may seem trivial compared to our US standards, this is a significant milestone for education of children with special needs in Bosnia. Our ultimate goal is to publish a country wide scientific study outlining the benefits of early detection and intervention in the educational outcomes for children with special needs. We hope that the study will prove that children who receive systematic education by trained professionals have greater skill acquisition, progress to higher levels and are more likely to become contributing members of society through education and inclusion. In turn, providing reason for other Ministries of Education throughout the country to move forward in supporting the future education of children with special needs. I get to work with children and Denny gets to apply his research's the perfect project for us. We are humbled by the opportunity to be part of the process to change lives in Bosnia. 

Dreams do come true! Last weekend we participated with two of the riders we have been working with at Riders of Hope in a dressage show. Esma and Aren impressed us with their equestrian skills as they completed their dressage patterns in front of a judge from the Bosnian Equestrian Federation with family and friends watching from the sidelines. And I think they enjoyed it as well! 
They were very excited about their trophies and medals, but
Esma was super excited about her ribbon!

Esma has been dreaming of showing dressage since I first met
her last fall. She's worked very hard on her riding skills this year.
 She is capable of doing the whole pattern independently, but the judge
requested all riders be on lead for safety in the chaotic show
environment. She won the gold medal for best halt and salute!
Aren won 1st for the judge's score! He also practiced the pattern
independently, but his horse is a bit frisky when it comes to shows
so we offered a little back up just in case... He did great!

Then this Saturday, as part of their service hours, the young missionaries were able to help complete several parts of the new Sensory Trail at Riders of Hope. It has been "under construction" since the fall. It took the best of my creative resources to find the materials needed to complete several of the stations on the trail without Home Depot or Lowe's nearby! Needless to say, I did a major happy dance when I finally found the gutters I needed for one station. It was a great service project and I can't wait to see it all in action after we've had a chance to introduce the horses to everything and make sure they like it as much as we do! 
The first phase of the sensory trail includes a mailbox, rotating boxes 
that will have tic-tac-toe on two sides, center horses on one side and
horse tack and grooming on the other side, a 
magnetic board, ball roll,
a bridge and the "horse wash" with 
hanging pool noodles. This is what
we started with on Saturday. We only have the rotating boxes to finish now.
We have the stickers for the squares ready, but decided we needed to
replace the wooden boxes as they are already starting to warp.
The metal squares have been ordered! It will be a great addition to the program!

Great teamwork putting up the gutters for the ball roll! 

Elder Echols gets to do all the mathematical calculations!
I can't stand it when things aren't straight and even! This station
will have a magnetic board. I'm working on making magnet
board activities such as horse matching game, counting horses,
puzzles and other interactive educational activities. 

While the elders where working on the ball roll, the sisters helped with Esma.
She really enjoys talking to them and showing off her equestrian skills!
I picked up several different types of balls. Some are colorful
like this one, others have bells in them (dog toys!). You can't
see them as well, but you can hear them as they roll down
and surprise you when they fall to the level below. The balls
also have different textures so we have visual, auditory and
tactile sensory integration all covered on this one! 

Preparing the pool noodles to hang on a frame for one
of the stations. We couldn't hang them because we haven't
worked the horses with them yet and there were lessons
and birthday parties going on. But everything is ready to go!
My friend Lamija testing out the ball roll. I had to
exchange three brackets that were the wrong shape
so the missionaries didn't get to see it in action.
The video is a little dark, but you'll get the idea! (No, that is not me laughing in the video!)
Can't wait to put it all to use with the riders!

My life has been so greatly enriched by the involvement with so many remarkable people in the Balkans. We have numerous other exciting activities underway and we will definitely be keeping busy this summer. As the title of this post states "Changing Lives One Project at a Time" the life most deeply changed will most certainly be mine. 

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on the OK of the project to help educate special needs children and indeed it will change lives while you are there and hopefully continue into the future. The Lord certainly sent you and your talent with horse therapy to the right place. Thanks for sharing.