The most satisfying aspect of being an educator with EPF is noting clients’ improvements over time. My clients were supported by a trans-disciplinary team as well as myself. Some of my clients sat for their MATSEC examinations, others succeeded in obtaining their driving license, ECDL qualifications and passing MCAST and hairdressing courses.
The Stepping-Out and ‘Tempo Libero’ programs involve organizing sessions by involving and including members in their learning to achieve independence. Priority is given to members’ wishes, who may emphasize the importance of a particular goal or experience. A core element of these programs is fun!
I have fond memories of the times we went to the cinema, bowling or restaurants for dinner, went on boat-trips and horse-riding, swum or picnicked together. Our weekend live-ins have always proved to be very useful too, as members showed just how much can be learnt in a short amount of time.
The overall aim of these programs is to facilitate and teach skills that lead to independence. Achievements by our members include crossing the streets safely, money handling, shopping and computer skills, catching the bus and forming lasting friendships with others.
I must admit that the programs have also presented challenges. I have often experienced parents who are reluctant to ‘let go’ of their children, particularly when catching the bus alone is concerned. In my experience good communication, trust, empathy and understanding between parents and educators is vital. Get together amongst parents who have experienced similar anxieties and doubts and those who have overcome their understandable fears successfully can be very fruitful. I would like to say that when parents have felt that it was time for their child to take an important step forward such as catching the bus, none of them have regretted it!
Another challenge I experienced as part of this program is the reaction of some persons in the community. Some shopkeepers kindly offer our members ‘gifts’ as they seem to feel sorry for our members because of their disability. We have had to calmly explain to these people that while their kindness is appreciated, our members are learning the use of money and the art of shopping and such an offer would not be conducive to their learning experience. Some of them understand while some glare back at us…
Among the best memories I have from my involvement with the foundation, are the summer barbeques where I played the unofficial role of Head Chef and the Christmas parties, particularly during gift-giving time! I consider the look on my clients’ faces as they unwrap their presents as being the most rewarding present of all.
The most interesting experience I had however, was the youth exchange of EPF with Associazione Italiana per Persone Down (AIPD). During this exchange we met with Italian youths who came to Malta in September 2006 and in February 2007 when we flew up to Rome. These experiences helped me enrich my understanding of various aspects of the program, especially with regards to styles of learning, independent living and socialization. Some of what we learned in Rome is still being implemented in our programmes, such as the creation of a Star to help our members visualize and keep track of their goals. Unfortunately we still seem to be very far away from implementing other ideas, such as independent living for our youngsters. The group of us that flew to Rome lived in a flat inhabited by persons with Down’s Syndrome, located in Fiordaliso. They are successfully independent and are supported by supervisors for a few minutes per day. If only some influential members of our society would help us in making this dream come true!
I have learned a great deal from my experience at EPF. I have learned to be more diplomatic and to genuinely appreciate the work done by parents and other stakeholders. I have learned to better understand and deal with those issues and difficulties faced by the members, the beauty of voluntary work and the importance of being calm, patient and perseverant in the achievement of a task. Another asset of working with EPF is getting to know other professionals within the field of disability and forming friendships with many of them. I consider my work with EPF as not only important to my chosen career but also as part of my holistic growth as a person.