Since the beginning of the school year, Lessons of Kindness, in which children learn about empathy and the right attitude toward people with disabilities, have taken place in 20 Moscow schools.
“Perspektiva” employees conducted these lessons for 1800 schoolchildren in grades 1 through 8. These lessons have a customized program for each age, specially designed by “Perspektiva,” but the most important thing is that the lesson is conducted not by schoolteachers, but by people with disabilities themselves.
…Alexander Zaikin is blind. Feeling the steps with his cane, he reaches the second floor, where the 2 “A” class of the No. 3 Metropolitan Gymnasium eagerly awaits their guests. Yulia Kuleshova, who has speech problems due to neurological disease, helps Alexander to orient himself. Without embarrassment, the leaders of the lesson tell the children about their disabilities, explaining that the problem lies not in their health, but in their relations to others and their surrounding environment, which is still very ill-suited to accommodate a free lifestyle for people with disabilities.
For these second-graders, this first lesson is a means of getting acquainted. Therefore, Yulia and Alexander begin by sharing explanations with the kids: who are people with disabilities, what is the nature of their problem, and perhaps it is a general problem and not theirs specifically? “I still have problems with my hands,” says Yulia. “I cannot pick up small things and it is difficult for me to write.” The children listen to the leaders understandingly, and Alexander’s disability becomes clear to them after he takes his cane and starts to use it to navigate through the class. Before this, quiet and confident Alexander—a former history teacher—did not cause in them a shadow of suspicion that he is not just the same as they are. “Blind!” said Vika, timidly, seeing how the guest hesitantly moved past her desk. She spoke these words and became frightened. “What are you afraid of?” Yulia began to inquire. “That you could offend a person with those words, right?”
After that, they explained to the shocked second-graders which words can be used when speaking of persons with disabilities, and which words are better to refrain from using. “The key word that should always be first and foremost is—person,” explains Yulia. “Because more than anything we are all people, and only after that fundamental similarity do we have some differences.”
To relieve stress, they played a little: with blindfolded eyes, and the help of their companions, the children tried to navigate through the class and find a toy, undo and fasten buttons with one hand, to hop by the desks on one leg…. At the end, the guests showed the children a few simple words in sign language and explained that it is perfectly possible for them to befriend their hearing-impaired peers.
"I am very grateful to you for this lesson,” said teacher and organizer, Svetlana Anatolyevna Zaitseva, in conclusion. “We must teach the children, while they are still young, how to relate to others, and also what’s important in life and what’s secondary.”
After that, the class 1 “B” awaited the guests. Since there had already been a lesson to get acquainted, today they decided to talk about jobs. Three rows of first-graders became three teams, each of which received a sheet of paper and an assignment—write down which professions would be suitable for someone who cannot hear and cannot speak, and also which would be appropriate for someone without both arms. Each team approached the task creatively: the children did not only select the most common professions, but also explained how, for example, a person without arms could work as a security guard, and a deaf person as a librarian. It turns out that, with the use of modern technology, everything in the world becomes possible, and barriers practically do not exist. One of the teams chose for a blind person the profession of singer, and the leaders, Alexander and Yulia, told the first-graders about Diana Gurstkaya and her performances. They even shared some stage secrets of the famous singer.
Finally, the kids received a homework assignment: on the way home from school, look to see which obstacles a person with disabilities may encounter.
The next lessons of kindness will be held at the Metropolitan gymnasium in a week.
“Perspektiva” conducts this series of lectures, Lessons of Kindness, through seminars and training sessions for the school community.