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Empowering children with learning disabilities

by Joanna Yap, reporters@theborneopost.com. Posted on February 6, 2014, Thursday

His Excellency signing the guest book during his brief tour of the State Library.

Yun (third right) and Hamid (second right) in a group photo call with (from left) environment, science, technology and health officer of US Embassy in KL Brock Fox, Arpah, Billings and a senior library staff.

KUCHING: Helping children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia to acquire reading and spelling skills will not only open doors for them to engage with the community but also participate fully in it.

Dyslexia Association of Sarawak (DAS) vice-president Richard Sia said this when speaking during the certificate presentation ceremony for participants of the Empower Programme organised by the US Department of State, which was held at the Sarawak State Library yesterday.

“With the ability to read and acquire information from resources out there, we hope that these children will gain access and be included in mainstream schools and communities, thus providing them with accessibility and inclusiveness through empowering them in reading.

“With this new knowledge and techniques, we hope to create and improve the support for dyslexic children and adults, and for the children with other learning disabilities to acquire learning skills in reading, spelling and learning English.”

Last month, DAS and SK Laksamana Kuching in collaboration with state Education Department and Yayasan Sarawak conducted a reading camp for Primary 3 students, where children were immersed in English teaching and language.

The camp was a pilot project to empower children with learning disabilities through an intensive reading programme over a seven-day period at Yayasan Sarawak in Kuching.

“All our children have shown a significant improvement in their pre-camp and post camp assessments for the English language,” shared Sia, adding that the children’s progress would continue to be monitored over the next six months.

He thanked guest-of-honour US Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun, the US Embassy in KL and all those responsible for funding and providing the association with valuable information and expertise to further improve its learning and assessment programmes.

During his speech, Yun praised the state library for its beauty and expressed the US Embassy’s willingness to continue to work together with the library to help it expand as well as provide other means of support such as exchanges and lectures.

Yun, who is Korean-American, noted the similarities between Malaysia and the USA in that both were multicultural nations with people from diverse backgrounds, religious beliefs and ethnicity all living together.

“To me, having this mix is very, very important and I do believe, such a mix is a very important ingredient in how a nation succeeds. Again, this is very much full of hope as I come and see what you have done in Sarawak,” he said.

During his speech, His Excellency said the Embassy was very happy to have played a small part in enabling the Empower Programme as well as the camp to take flight.

“We’re here to recognise what we one can do with a serious disability like dyslexia. Dyslexia is something that is not readily visible, not like many disabilities. When we recognise that, and when we have exchanges, mentors, tutors, who can really make sure that people with dyslexia can live full lives – more than that, lives with learning, I think that makes an enormous contribution. I am very happy to honour the Dyslexia association, what Richard Sia and his group have done. We are very happy to be a very small part of how we can highlight and assist in this effort.”

Yun later presented certificates to DAS treasurer and head of human resources Wallace Lee and SK Laksamana, Kuching special education teacher (dyslexia) Alban Lisen who took part in one of the US Department of State’s Empower programmes.

Earlier, the ambassador and his wife, Dr Melanie Billings were welcomed to the library by chairman of the board of directors of Pustaka Negeri Sarawak Tan Sri Hamid Bugo before they were taken on a short of the library and briefed by its acting chief executive officer Arpah Adenan on its functions and facilities, including of the Lincoln Corner.

According to an event information handout, the Empower Programme is a new series of two-way exchanges aimed at bolstering international disability rights by providing opportunities to disability advocates for professional development, internships, training, networking, and collaboration with their US peers.

The programme is run by the Professional Exchanges Division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in partnership with Mobility International USA (Miusa). The exchanges coincide with efforts to promote and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the administration.

Last year, the Dyslexia Association of Sarawak (DAS) and SK Laksamana, Kuching and the University of Michigan Centre for the Development of Language and Literacy (UMCDLL) were selected to participate in the programme.

In August last year, Dr Carol Persad from UMCDLL spent about a week in Kuching to conduct a series of workshops on teaching methodology for dyslexia and other learning disabilities for over 80 teachers, NGOs, and Kuching State Education officers who work with children with disabilities.

During the following Oct 13 until Nov 2, Lee and Alban were hosted by Miusa and the University of Michigan to collaborate and develop a project on the Miusa reading camp to promote the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities.

The partnership received a USD7,000 grant to implement the Miusa Reading Camp project.

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