07 Feb No Assumptions, Please!
School outreaches to spread inclusion
Hello everyone and welcome back to my blog. I hope you are all having a nice 2023 so far. Today I’m going to talk about some school outreaches that I did in the past 2 months.
At the start of December 2022 I was asked by Opening Doors to give a talk on Empowerment through Inclusion and to co-lead a workshop with the artistic director Ilona Baldacchino at MCAST in Paola in their Pathway to Independent Living Programme. This was part of Opening Doors’ activities for World Disability Day 2022.
It was my very first time leading a workshop but luckily for me there were a few students that I knew as some of them are my friends and attend Opening Doors and some students there had also been to watch H2O Water Magnifico – ŻiguŻajg (ziguzajg.org) with the Down Syndrome Association Malta (dsa.org.mt). This made it easier for me to interact with them. Another thing that also really helped me was my experience of being a participant/ performer during my performing arts training in the past at SOPA – School of Performing Arts in Malta , H20 Water Magnifico and AUTOMANIACS – ŻiguŻajg (ziguzajg.org) and from my performing arts lecture from my second year degree course at MCAST. From these I had learned how to conduct a workshop so I was able to implement the exercises that I had gone through myself. After the talk, with Ilona I led a physical theatre workshop for the students where I led a few exercises which were gentle warmups, walking around the room which included touching the floor, jumping, rolling, shifting weight from each other by going back-to-back and to help with balance by holding each other away at arm’s length before pulling through. Another exercise that I led was to get everyone in the middle of the circle and say what was their favourite thing. Others who shared the same taste or liking then have to cross the circle. Another exercise was where I got everyone to cross the room as an animal (e.g like an angry kangaroo). The last exercise that I led was a cooling down exercise where I got everyone lying on the floor and then lead into a calm state of mind by talking to them and making them imagine they were at the beach. If there were any students who refused to participate during the workshop or didn’t want to take part, then I made sure that I would help them by breaking down each move they had to do.
I really enjoyed leading this workshop because it gave me a chance to be able to be a leader and seeing how everyone enjoyed the workshop and how much fun they had in creating. It showed me that all it needs is to really take the chance and to really believe in that person who has an intellectual disability to perform and create to their best ability and to take part in a workshop like everyone else can do, it may a take a bit of time for some of them to get out there and they may learn slowly but at the end of the day they all enjoy connecting and creating together. I would love to lead another workshop again. At the end of the session the students were really moved that it was really tough for them to believe that the workshop had ended and they wanted to continue and keep me for their lunch break!
In August 2022 I was in Sri Lanka visiting my grandparents where a journalist got in touch with me, to invite me for an interview on her programme called Kaleidoscope (2) Kaleidoscope Lets Talk 26 08 22 on Disability Inclusion with Angela Bettoni – YouTube. The principal from my mum’s old school Ladies’ College happened to watch this video and then reached out to me, asking me if I would be interested to speak at the school. Of course I said yes and that I would love to. So in December 2022 I went back to Sri Lanka for Christmas where I went to talk at the school on two different days. The first day I talked to the teachers and the following day to their students.
As it was the first time that I was talking to a crowd of teachers I didn’t know how I was meant to interact with them but I managed to impact them with my presentation which was the same presentation that I used when I was talking at MCAST but I adapted it a bit and changed the title to “Empowerment through inclusion”. Later on, after the talk, the principal told me that the teachers were really influenced and motivated from the talk.
The following day when I went back to talk it was to over 1300 students and teachers! The students were from 8 years to 18 years, which was such a huge audience for me to be in front of. In fact, it just so happened to be the first assembly of the year for them! They were a great audience as they were participating throughout (by clapping) and very engrossed in my talk. The talk left a huge impact on my mum’s friends’ children, these are few of the comments that I got from them:
“They were all awe- inspired by you queen!! Like people were legit leaning forward in their seats!!! And I know some naughty kids who were super silent and were listening to your every word.”
“Yess my god you must have seen the chaos before your speech. That shows how impactful your speech was to quieten our seniors.”
“You absolutely slayed it and like even my friends were like so emotional.”
“Girl, it’s cause you were really good and you really moved everyone.”
A friend of my mum told us that her 8-year-old daughter came home and told her everything about the talk, she even told her everything about Down Syndrome and how Down Syndrome happens!
During the same Christmas break after the last talk at the school I was contacted by a former teacher of mine from St Martin’s College, the school that I attended for 6 years and graduated in 2018. She invited me to go to the school and talk to the Form 1s during their Inclusion week. So when I was back in Malta I went to St Martin’s College on two different Thursdays as they couldn’t fit 120 kids in the library at one go. What I really enjoyed about talking to the student at St Martin’s was because I could relate to them as I used to go to the school myself. They were all very willing to learn from the presentation that I had for them. In fact after the presentation was over we had a Q&A which could have gone on for much longer as they were asking me so many questions about inclusion, life at St Martin’s College and my memories from when I was at school. I even got the opportunity to sit in on their social lesson which was on inclusion. I was very impressed on how much they want to be inclusive. As we had just come out of the Q&A the children were distracted because I was there and they kept on leaving their seats during their class for me to sign their contact books!
I think we need more initiatives like this for Opening Doors’ members to go to schools to give talks. We could also perform H20 Water Magnifico and Automaniacs and host theatre, dance, and music workshops at the schools. I think that children who grow up in a diverse environment will see the world with whole new eyes, not like the current generations.