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A Life Altering Gift

On a platform in front of a small auditorium filled with about 50 people stood a tall, striking, grey-haired woman with 10 children from about the ages of 5 to 14. These children were brought to this University classroom setting at the request of this woman by various parents, clinicians, teachers. The children were of great concern because they were not learning and could become disruptive and obstreperous in their school class.

This session was attended by parents, teachers, psychologists, clinicians and student teachers. We watched as Elizabeth Freidus pulled this group together in various activities using a chalkboard and chalk, a hoop, and cut up boxes she found on the street. She asked the children to sit in a line, then had one child come up and draw a line to reflect what he was seeing. The children noticed the line was crooked. One child was invited to adjust them so all were in a straight line. The others were encouraged to help by raising their hand and once recognized, give positive suggestions. At the end Freidus asked the leader, “How were each of the children helpful?”. And the children were asked, "What did the leader do to make this task successful”. Through each activity that followed the children were asked how each one helped the other.

There was so much learning on my part as well as theirs. I watched these isolated children become a group, using language or movement they struggled with, but each one waited for the other to respond either physically or verbally. They became enthusiastic and enjoyed each activity while becoming attentive and supportive while others had a turn. They did not just become group but a socially empathic group.

That day changed my life. I wanted to learn from Freidus; figure out what was keeping our children from participating, learn the strength and weakness of each one, teach them using their strengths, but help them to recognize and cope with their weaknesses to finally make learning an enjoyable experience. This became my life’s journey, with the ever supportive mentorship of Elizabeth Freidus. I am a fortunate person to have been so challenged, and encouraged, watching so many happy children become contented adults, advocating for themselves while taking a meaningful place in our world.

As an added joy, I have been invited to participate in a small way by Indira, Dharmil, and the family of the Gateway School of Mumbai, in their journey as they build a creative and supportive school for those children in India who are finding the learning journey to be so difficult. I am honoured.

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