Waldorf School Students Create Animals for Blind Students in Egypt

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Middle school students at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod create handmade animals to support curriculum for blind students in Mansoura, Egypt.

While working recently at the Mansoura Insurance Hospital in Egypt on a project about birth and breastfeeding for the Egyptian Ministry of Health, Dr. Kajsa Brimdyr of Sandwich, Massachusetts, met the hospital's General Manager, Dr. Fatma.

Several years ago, Dr. Fatma noticed the high number of orphans (specifically girl orphans) being left at the hospital, and she started an orphanage for them. Dr. Brimdyr states: "Dr. Fatma also realized that her blind patients had nowhere to go during the day and no way to learn about the world, so she started a school for the blind. Students of all ages are brought to the school in the morning, and have access to Braille books; people who read the newspapers, the Koran, and stories to them; and teachers who use hands-on methods to teach general education. She is an amazing woman (in a male dominated society) who sees a need, and then comes up with a solution."

"Dr. Fatma told me that one of the biggest challenges blind people face is understanding what animals look like," says Dr. Brimdyr. "People talk about animals all the time, yet without any basis for understanding the descriptions and comparisons, animals are a mystery to them. I told her about my daughters, who attend the Waldorf School of Cape Cod in Bourne, and about the wonderful handwork items they create there. We agreed that perhaps we could forge a connection, and the Waldorf students could make animals so that the blind children could actually feel the shape of the animal."

When Dr. Brimdyr, who is the Director of Operations at the Healthy Children Project in East Sandwich, returned to Cape Cod, she immediately spoke with her daughter's sixth grade teacher, Kim Allsup, and the handwork and fifth grade teacher, Caroline Hopewell, about the possibility of working together on this project. "They thought it was a wonderful connection," she says.

"The first book we read this year was Helen Keller's autobiography," agrees Mrs. Allsup. "The students admired her courage and were so impressed by her dedication to learning. As part of the sixth grade handwork curriculum, the class worked with Mrs. Hopewell to learn how to make three dimensional animals. When Dr. Brimdyr told us about the need for animals for blind children in Egypt, this project seemed a natural for us."

When Mrs. Allsup asked Dr. Brimdyr to present the project to the class, Dr. Brimdr said "I wanted to explain the difficulties in picturing animals-they seem so clear to anyone who can see them! So I asked the class to close their eyes and picture this animal that I described. For example, the kinkajou (photos flavus) is part of the family procyonidae. It usually weighs around ten pounds. This arboreal mammal is not very rare. It has a tongue similar to a vermilingua or anteater. Actually, the kinkajou and the olingo are hard to tell apart when they're in the wild, because they have very similar ears, teeth, body, legs, and fur. The kinkajou is the only member of its family to have a fully prehensile tail, similar to the bassariscus astutus (ringtail) and the cacomistle (bassariscus sumichrasti), but it looks more like a primate. Its color is similar to the panthera leo."

Dr. Brimdyr then asked the students to draw the animal. Not surprisingly, the task was difficult!

"What does it matter that it looks like an olingo when I don't know what an olingo looks like?" the students wanted to know. Exactly! A zebra looks just like a horse, but with black and white stripes. If you don't know what a horse looks like, how does it help you understand a zebra? "What followed was a wonderful, lively discussion which deepened their understanding of the importance of this project," recalls Dr. Brimdyr.

One student was absent during the discussion, and the next day the sixth graders repeated the activity with him-choosing unusual animals from the animal dictionary, and describing the animal for the other students to draw.

During their handwork class the students are now focusing on making animals to donate to the School for the Blind. "It's not about what they don't know, it's about what they can know," explains one of the students. "They can feel things. They need help, and this is our way of helping."

The fifth graders are knitting the animals to send as well. Even some younger students are knitting animals, and many parents in the community have now joined in.

"I think it is great to help children who are less fortunate than us," says sixth grader Pai-Lin Hunnibell of Monument Beach. "It's a great feeling."

The Waldorf School of Cape Cod is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization serving families through Barnstable, Plymouth, and Bristol counties. The school is affiliated with both the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. As the only Waldorf school in southeastern Massachusetts, the school serves over 150 children each year in its parent-child classes, preschool, kindergarten, and grades one through eight.

Further information about the Animals for Egypt project and the school are available by contacting the school at 508-759-7499, or by visiting the school's comprehensive web site at http://www.waldorfschoolofcapecod.org.

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Meredith Hunnibell
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