In September 2019, Rajawali TV (RTV) visited Sumba Island to meet with INOVASI teachers and stakeholders and share their stories. Rugaiya Eka Wati was one of those teachers. Rugaiya lives with his family in Tapil Village, in the Rindi sub-district of East Sumba. He has two children – one of them, Uje Al Buchory, is living with an audio and oral impairment disability. In this story, Rugaiya shares with RTV how Uje’s learning has improved with the right parental and school support.
The afternoon was slow and quiet. When we arrived at Rugaya’s house in the coastal Tapil Village, movement was still, and family members could be found relaxing on the front porch. The afternoon sun was hot, casting its rays over the 60 odd families that inhabit the village in East Sumba’s Rindi sub-district – a two hour drive from Waingapu town.
Houses dot the coastline in Tapil. Pure white sand from the beach licks the curve of the road, adding to the dazzling heat. Coconut plantations throw patches of shade around the village, giving residents brief respite from the hot sun. There is no public transportation to reach Tapil – residents usually prefer motorbike or hitch a ride with trucks carrying supplies back to the village.
Like many other villagers, Rugaiya is a fisherman and seaweed grower. Unlike other villagers, his child Uje has special needs, making schooling a challenge. At 10 years old, Uje is still in the first grade at SD Inpres Tapil primary school. The campus is not far from home.
When we arrive to meet with Uje with the RTV crew, his mother is busy in the kitchen. She comes hurrying out, inviting us to take a seat in the living room where there is only a broken sofa and a few plastic chairs. Uje runs to sit on his mother’s lap as we begin the interview.
Rugaiya talks at length about Uje. He explains that they only realised Uje’s condition when he was one year old, noticing that he did not answer when they called his name. When they tried to engage him in conversation, he didn’t respond. In 2017, Rugaiya took Uje to the nearest hospital, where he was examined by doctors and said to have a serious issue with his cochlea.
At hearing this news, Rugaiya explained how he had felt disappointed.
“It can’t be denied from this small heart, there is a sense of disappointment. Why did God give a child like this?” said Rugaiya, holding back tears. He continued, “but I feel proud. Even though he has shortcomings, I’m sure he has strengths.”
Rugaiya falls silent, lost in thought.
Uje’s mother explains how Uje is seen to be one of the ‘wayward’ and unmanageable children at school, sometimes coming across as vindictive. One day, she said, one of his school friends hit him. He did not immediately respond but confronted the child later on when he passed by the house. Despite this, Uje is usually welcomed by teachers and students at the school.
“Schools do know there are children like this, so they want to do anything and study like anything, let it go,” said Rugaiya, referring to how Uje was treated at the school initially. Life in Tamil can sometimes be difficult. During holidays or weekends, Uje and his brother would sometimes go with their parents to the sea. Aside from fishing, Rugaiya also cultivates seaweed, often staying out at sea for up to a week at a time for the cultivation. Between the fishing and the seaweed, monthly income is about 1 million Rupiah – but this is reduced by the cost of food.
Food is usually bought in Melolo, a neighboring sub-district. Traveling 20km, Rugaiya usually visits Melolo 3 times per month to shop.
Navigating both life as a fisherman, and Uje’s condition, makes Rugaiya confused and worried about his children’s education. With Uje unable to hear and speak well, it is clear that the school teachers are not using appropriate methods to best help and nurture Uje’s learning.
Furthermore, Uje struggles to accept other children and family members, often getting angry and frustrated.
“I once asked the teachers in the school not to speak with glaring eyes at Uje, because he could feel that he was being scolded,” Rugaiya said.
Getting the right support
Rugaiya is one of the parents in Rindi sub-district who in 2019 received support from INOVASI’s inclusive education pilot partnership with local NGO CIS Timor. Working with nine schools in Rindi, the CIS program focuses on training in inclusive education, inclusive community involvement, and coalitions for change.
Rugaiya is pleased to be involved with the pilot and explained how important parental support is for children like Uje, particularly when it comes to identifying disability and special needs at home. He has begun reporting this to the CIS Timor team each month, as part of pilot activities.
As a result of the pilot, Rugaiya claims to have seen and experienced many positive changes, particularly for Uje’s education and interaction with others. At home, Rugaiya teaches Uje with sign language, helping him to learn and write using hand and mouth movements.
For example, he uses his hand to draw a line in the air from top to bottom, using another line to cross and show the letter A. Learning aids are also very important, with Rugaiya now regularly using the alphabet poster provided by CIS Timor.
“Thank god, now he (Uje) can write,” said Rugaiya happily. He said he is also now quick to respond to cues and instructions given by his mother.
After seeing the development experienced by his son, Rugaiya has been eager to continue applying what he has learnt with CIS Timor. However, his job as a fisherman has meant he often misses community meetings.
Even if not at sea, the lack of public transportation means travel from Tapil Village to Waingapu is difficult. But, when meetings are held locally in the village, Rugaiya always participates.
When asked about his future hopes for Uje, Rugaiya said that he wants his son to be able to improve the quality of family life.
“We (parents) are illiterate. I hope that Uje can be better and be proud.”
Rugaiya intends to send Uje to the highest level of schooling, but he admits that this is not an easy thing considering his hearing condition.
“If I want to go to school, I have to go with him because only I understand him,” Rugaiya said.
Even though Rugaiya has family in Waingapu, he is worried that they will not be able to fully communicate with Uje.
“My father doesn’t really understand him,” he explained.
As the CIS Timor pilot continues in East Sumba, families like that of Rugaiya and Uje will continue to benefit and learn more about how they can support children with disabilities both at home and at school.