Learning from experience: Cerebral palsy in the classroom

In Indonesia, there is little awareness of disability, and those living with conditions like cerebral palsy often face barriers to living independently. But one teacher is setting a fine example.

Sabtu, 29 Apr 2017 10:28 WIB

Teacher Safrina Rovasita in the classroom of SLB Yapenas School for Children with Special Needs, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (Photo: Eka Juniari)

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Where disabilities go unrecognized or unsupported, a small impairment can become a significant handicap. 

In Indonesia, there is little awareness of disability, and those living with conditions like cerebral palsy often face barriers to living independently, and gaining acceptance from their communities and families.

But one teacher has learned from her own experience, and is throwing kids with cerebral palsy a lifeline. 

KBR journalist, Eka Juniari met Safrina Rovasita at SLB Yapenas School for Children with Special Needs, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

A student is touching letters on a tablet screen, as his teacher Safrina Rovasita, urges him on. But this isn’t your average classroom. The teacher and student in this classroom have something in common. Both have cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that effects movement and coordination. 

But Safrina hasn’t let it hold her back. She met me in her break and told why she wanted to become a teacher. “There are many challenges as a teacher, but I like children and I am learning a lot,” she says. “Like if there is a student who doesn’t want to study, what can I do, how can I make them more interested in learning?”

In all of Indonesia, there are just three teachers with cerebral palsy, and Safrina is one of them. Muhardi, the headmaster of SLB Yapenas School for Children with Special Needs, says she is a valued member of staff.

“After completing her degree, she was interested in teaching in a special school,” he explains. “She applied to SLB Yapenas. She had to pass a probation period of several months. During this time she was interacting with the students. She is highly motivated, and she lifts the spirits of the children that she teaches.”

Safrina, now 32, found out that she had cerebral palsy when she was in college. She says that there was, and still is, very little awareness of cerebral palsy in Indonesia. Even doctors couldn’t tell her much about it. So Safrina’s parents ended up searching online to find out about their daughter’s condition.

“Not even my mother knew that I had cerebral palsy,” Safrina said. “She just thought that I was different. Nobody ever told us that it was cerebral palsy. Even now, doctors rarely tell children and their parents when they have cerebral palsy, so parents often go searching for answers on the internet.”

In Indonesia, between 1 and 5 births out of every 1000 are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The condition is caused by abnormal brain development or brain injury during, before or just after birth.  Most people with cerebral palsy show signs of physical impairment, as muscle control is affected. Limbs might tremble, shake, writhe, or be forced into awkward, painful positions. Simple movements like tying a shoelace or eating can become difficult.

The gaping lack of information and support she faced, encouraged Safrina to initiate a support group with several others. “I was looking for a cerebral palsy community and when I was in college I couldn’t found one. Then in 2012, along with other seven other people, I established Wahana Keluarga Cerebral Palsy, a community for people with cerebral palsy.”

In Yogyakarta about 1000 people live with cerebral palsy. The support group gives them the opportunity to share their experiences, knowledge, and consult with experts. And while they’re doing their best to live a normal, independent life, there are still many challenges to overcome, says Safrina. 

“I want people with cerebral palsy, whether they have an education or not, to be able to live independently. But getting a job is still hard for people with cerebral palsy. Some of my friends have graduated from college, but they are still without jobs.”

But Safrina won’t be defeated. When she’s not teaching, she writes for a local newspaper. And she dreams to one day publish a book about cerebral palsy, and to return to university and start a PhD.

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