“Being the Change I Want to See,” Tasmeen Shiny Weerakoon (2014) — Inquiry 1

 

Writer’s Reflection

Narrative essays were never my forte. I loathed writing them in high school. If the assignment was an analysis of an excerpt, a poem or any other type of writing for that matter, I was the first to complete it. With this type of assignment however, my brain has frozen twice over before the teacher has even finished explaining it.

It was partly due to fear- I was scared to write because I did not think my story was important or interesting enough to put down on paper. I mean, I am not Princess Diana or Brad Pitt. Why would anyone want to read my story? This essay prompt was no different. When the assignment was set, the endless high school nights I stayed up thinking of a story to write flooded my mind.

However, something significant happened in my life two weeks ago. This changed my perception of the narrative essay, because now I WANTED to write my story. The essay helped me self-reflect on my method of writing and ways in which it can help society. I was impatient to see the final draft. I was inspired to inspire my readers.

It illustrates that if there is something you are passionate about, become involved; it does not matter who you are or how you choose to help. The important thing is, that YOU are being the change that YOU want to see. This story is about how a unique language and form of communication, helps bridge the gap between myself, and an even more unique group of children I care about.

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In my home country, Sri Lanka, education is free from the preschool to PhD level. One may naturally assume that this policy ensures all children receive an equal education; unfortunately, minorities such as the blind and disabled are excluded from this virtuous benefit system; although they receive a free education, access to resources such as translators or special textbooks required for academic success is limited.

Since I was curious to understand how such differently abled students read and learn in the local education system, last summer I volunteered as a teaching assistant in a special school for visually handicapped students. I eagerly offered to make the teacher’s lesson clearer through pop-up tactile images or extra explanations.

With time, I noticed certain discrepancies between normal state schools and this school. For instance, the math textbooks were much more basic and easier, compared to those used by their peers in state school. Also, the teachers did not assign any extra reading. Both these were caused by the lack of special textbooks to suit these children’s needs. This was time consuming and hindered the smooth progression of a class as when even one student failed to hear a portion of the first reading, I am required to carefully repeat myself; this could happen at least five times during a lesson.  Furthermore, their high dependency on another individual to read for them significantly reduces academic freedom pertaining to reading and writing.

 I transformed from a simple observer of such discrepancies, to an activist to prevent it, after the encounter with Kekulu, a teenage girl in my class who loved math. When asked a question during one lesson, she replied despondently, “I have been learning this for the past three years. I wish I could learn new things like my brother does (in his school).” This just broke my heart.

It is unfortunate when one who has the resources, neglects reading due to a lack of interest. However, it is downright unfair when a student who desperately wants to learn, is deprived of it for reasons beyond his or her control. For these students the simple act of reading, memorizing and restating the written word, is a daily struggle. I honor their perseverance to read and expand the mind, even when life has deemed it a difficult task. Keeping these in mind, I was determined to improve their situation; the summer activity motivated by simple curiosity was now my passion.

Despite a vehement search, opportunities for significant change were sparse in my locality. I arrived in USA two weeks ago to begin my college career at Miami. Although I was reluctant to leave the students back home, I hoped to find new opportunities at Miami where I could actively help students learn.

I immediately began working at dining services on-campus. Soon after, I received the most amazing news of a vacancy in IT services-they were looking for a student with a strong chemistry and IT background, to convert PDF files of textbooks and novels to specialized audio files, for easy accessibility to blind students! I quit my job at dining services and applied for this in faith. The reward for this risk arrived in the form of an e-mail, requesting me to begin work the very next day.

 I was trained in both the computer software and English language; the software transforms text, while English is used to describe textbook images vividly, to help students visualize it in their minds. I converted A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and am looking forward to my next mission; a college Calculus textbook. Only God can open their eyes, but we help open up their minds; out there is a whole new world of Da Vinci, Aztec Civilization and advanced calculus just a click of a button away.

Already numerous schools in Ohio have requested copies of these textbooks. Like us, they too believe this is more convenient for the students, than having someone read out loud portions of the textbook. It gives the student academic freedom, to choose what to read and when. They can easily read entire textbooks by navigating through a few keys. This will undoubtedly enhance their learning and reading experience. Kekulu would be ecstatic if she saw the inspiring things being done at IT services. With this, she could finally learn new math sums and be on par with her brother.

When working at the computer desk, I see myself as a communicator and writer. My process of communication involves converting visual files to audio files. I translate a lost language to those who cannot see. The computer keyboard is my writing pad and software is my language.

I dream that this technology will help millions of children around the world like Kekulu to receive a fair education. It is inspiring to know I can help make a change in so many people’s lives. For once, thanks to the software language, I AM the change I want to see.