It is a cold, damp November morning and another school day has just started at Diaconia’s special school in Prague-Michle. However, from what is happening outside the building, it looks like this is not going to be a regular day like any other. About eight Chinese people have just got out of their cars and they are preparing to enter. What is going on?
An international school
Usually, when speaking of an international school, people imagine a private institution to which ambitious parents send their children, hoping to give them a good start for their career. This is not the case with the Michle school. It is designated for children with autism or with a combined handicap. Despite its specialism, the school is still international: the management is not afraid of accepting the children of people from other countries, although it is not common practice.
The most difficult part of teaching children with complicated handicaps is communication. How do we speak to them to make sure they are able to acquire at least an elementary understanding of the matter? There are, of course, time-proven, efficient methods teachers find very helpful, such as communicating through pictures that depict common situations in a regular school day.
This way, they are able to agree with their students about the fact that, for example, they are going to do some studying first, then they are going to take a break, have a snack, then study again, have lunch, and then go home. On the other hand, one must always keep in mind that every student with a handicap is unique, and the way to achieve mutual understanding is usually original, different for every student.
Now, when you add a language barrier, and possibly also a different cultural code, to all of the above, you are faced with quite a demanding task indeed. This is why most special schools in the Czech Republic turn down, as politely as possible, children of foreigners, especially those that come from non-European countries.
However, the Michle Diaconia school does not turn down applications filed by foreigners. Apart from the majority of Czech students, we can also find children of parents from China, Vietnam, Brazil or Singapore. This means more work for the local teachers and assistants, but it also makes it more enjoyable. This year in November, the father of thirteen-year-old Jii Liang was the one to bring some fun and excitement to students and teachers alike.
The painting and the smiles of the Chinese friends
Mr. Tu Shao Hua has been working in the Czech Republic for a long time, dealing with tourism between the Czech Republic and China. He had been wondering how to thank the school for giving his son with Down’s Syndrome the special education he needed. He came up with a very original idea: to bring a painter from China, a good friend of his, to Prague. He would donate a painting to the school, one that he would actually paint directly on the premises of the school…
Mr. Tu would not provide any more information. However the date was arranged, so the staff at the school prepared some coffee and refreshments – and waited.
The morning with the painter, Mr. Zhao Wei, turned out to be a big success. It was a friendly meeting, full of smiles that were able to overcome any communication or other barriers. Mr. Zhao really did paint an abstract painting, before the eyes of the students, using oil colours, brushes, and an ordinary fork from the local cafeteria. Members of his large team also brought numerous presents to the students of the school.
The visitors mentioned several times that they would be interested in further cooperation and supporting the school. The painting is now drying on the wall of the director’s room (it will probably become part of one of the charity auctions). Mr. Tu, who had organised the whole event, seemed pleased.