When Silvia Haythana Díaz Luna gets to choose the activity in her play therapy session, she pulls out a red and blue plastic cash register. She sets up a grocery store, featuring empty bottles of shampoo and laundry detergent, then steps into the role of clerk.
Teacher and pretend customer Maribel Guadalupe fills a plastic shopping cart, reminding Silvia, “Tell me how much I owe and I will pay you.” Once the bill is settled and change is given, they clean up together.
It isn’t just a fun game. This is play therapy — one part of the program at Aulas de Desarollo y Esperanza (Classroom of Development and Hope), a school for children and youth with physical or mental disabilities in Santiago Tepatlaxco, Mexico.
For Silvia and other students, specialized support at the school, which is supported by MCC’s Global Family education program, makes a tremendous difference — both in achieving basic education and in gaining the skills they need to take care of themselves.
During play therapy, students choose the activity, and the therapist integrates individual lessons into the game. By playing shopkeeper, Silvia uses math, learns to ask for help when she needs it and practices social interactions.
“The goal of play therapy is to offer our students a trajectory to accomplish being independent people,” Guadalupe says.
“The most important thing is that we see people who are excluded.”
Around the world when families are struggling to meet basic needs, young people with disabilities may be left out of school or lag behind in public school systems that aren’t set up to meet specialized needs. In Mexico and other countries, such as China, Jordan, Syria and Tanzania, Global Family supports efforts to help these students learn and achieve.
Before Aulas started in 2009, there was no school for children with disabilities in Santiago Tepatlaxco. Parents who could afford an expensive private school could send their children to study in other cities. But many other children simply didn’t go to school.
Jimmy Jared Antonio, who has cerebral palsy, is attending school at Aulas for the first time at the age of 13. Previously, his mother kept him home because she was worried he would be made fun of or physically bullied. Now he has a welcoming school with personalized attention from a teacher and psychologist. “He was really, really hungry to learn and to come to school,” Guadalupe says.
Some students attend Aulas all four days a week that it’s open. Others, including Silvia, also attend public school, and the lessons at Aulas help them keep up with their classes. Parents do pay a small fee each month, but the 500 pesos ($39) per month is low compared to the $100 to $400 that other schools charge.
With MCC support, the school can still offer small classes and provide each of the 11 students with an individual lesson plan based on their abilities and needs. Students learn social skills, such as respecting boundaries, personal space and working in groups. Each child gets an hour of one-onone play therapy per week.
“The time that we offer each child is unique,” says Guadalupe.
Being able to provide specialized education that is high quality and affordable is what made Guadalupe want to work at Aulas. Though she had a higher paying job before, she didn’t like that her services were so expensive for families.
“The most important thing is that we see people who are excluded,” she says. “I believe that my greatest payment is seeing the kids happy.”
Emily Loewen is a writer for MCC Canada. Nina Linton is a photographer in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.