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Education for all

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A German-Tunisian exchange for handicapped students

Emmy, María, Hellgurd and I during the boat tour on the first evening of the GMF

After having spent three days at the Global Media Forum, my feelings remind me of those after a class trip or a big festival: I’m very exhausted but at the same time all wound up.

Emmy, María, and I have already talked a little about the discussions and workshops we participated in. Our entries show how different the workshops were. Some topics actually appeared to be too complex to be discussed in depth within 90 minutes. But I’ve got a lot of food for thought out of all of them; I’ve discovered new organizations, approaches and people. For example, the pupils Isabelle van der Valk and Hendrik Rösler who go to the Christophorus School for physically impaired children in Bonn. Their school organizes an awesome exchange program with a Tunisian school for kids with handicaps. This program enables the German students, on the one hand, to smell the salty air of the Mediterranean and the Tunisians, on the other hand, to see Germany at least once in their life.

Besides the vice principal of the German school, the president of the organization UTAIM El May, which the Tunisian school belongs to, and a Tunisian teacher were in Bonn. They had come directly from the Tunisian island Djerba to Germany. Isabelle and Hendrik have done the trip before – to Tunisia and back again. Isabelle especially liked the Medina, the ancient town. Hendrik had a lot of fun during the bus trips: “It was pretty cramped in the small bus. But we all got closer to each other on the way.”

Vice principal Jürgen Hammerschlag-Mäsgen talked about reciprocal learning: In Tunisia, he discovered that a German method of construction had been used there. His colleagues have shown him ways to prepare his students for the regular job market. Without special workshops for the handicapped, Tunisians have to find other kinds of work for their graduates. “With little resources, we’ve got to think of new ways and be creative,” said Rabiaa Ouerimi, teacher in El May, thus showing a striking difference between Tunisia and Germany: Her school doesn’t get governmental funding except for the teachers’ salaries.

Jürgen Hammerschlag-Mäsgen from the Christophorus School

The children profit a lot from the program, too: They get to know a new culture, practice English and can do exceptional things – such as picking olives in wheel chairs. And, of course, media plays a role in the exchange, too. Via Skype, the kids establish and keep contact with each other. They send e-mails with texts and pictures. And, as teenagers, they stay connected via Facebook, of course.

This project showed me again how important the commitment of individual persons is. If the teachers hadn’t put so much energy into realizing their dream of a German-Tunisian exchange program, it probably would have never come true. To reach this aim, collecting donations and filling out grant proposals was decisive, but also convincing parents. In the beginning, many were skeptical about the program, Ouerimi says. But in the tenth year of the cooperation, people can see how good of an opportunity it is. Now parents come and ask to have their children participate. In Germany, the program is supported by ENSA, an organization that promotes educational exchange between Germany and developing countries for the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I definitely want to talk with my friend Katharina about this program and about her opinion on Ms. Ouerimi’s statement that mentally disabled children are discriminated against at normal schools. I’m curious about Katharina’s opinion, as she is becoming a teacher for handicapped kids.

Date

June 28, 2012 | 4:00 pm

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