Co-ordinator back from meeting of minds

Chevone Petersen and principal Martin Sturm from Volksschulle Concordia who she visited while in Austria.

Founder and chairperson of Decibels of Love, Chevone Petersen, is back home again – and totally enthused about her work with deaf and hard of hearing families – after attending a conference in Austria.

The conference, the 3rd International Family Centered Early Intervention (FCEI) Congress, was a meeting of minds from all over the world and was hosted in Bad Ischl, Austria, from June 15 to 17.

Ms Petersen will be hosting a first of its kind workshop in September at Fish Hoek Primary to share new information gleaned from this experience. The workshop is open to all educators, parents or therapists working with children from Muizenberg to Cape Point.

“Our plan is to host more workshops for southern suburbs, Cape Town central and northern suburbs on a rotational basis,” she said.

The workshop, called Mapping the Listening and Speaking Brain for Learning, will take place on Wednesday September 7, at Fish Hoek Primary, at 3.30pm.

“This workshop will be the first of its nature presented by professionals, voluntarily within the mainstream environment – usually these kind of workshops are more centralised around special needs schools/organisations, but we recognise the need for everyone to be exposed to information that will help them to better understand the possible challenges that children may present with, in the classroom, and where to seek guidance and support,” she said.

“I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to attend the congress,” Ms Petersen said.

She said she had been very touched by the show of faith expressed by such great support for the only fund-raiser that Decibels of Love has ever hosted.

It was through generous donations that Chevone was able to travel to Austria, to network and represent South African families at the conference.

She described the experience as humbling and also enriching, and said it has validated the work being done, and the vision held, by Decibels of Love. “It was an amazing experience to learn from other countries and engage in discussions surrounding evidence-based practice, on the process of early intervention for deaf or hard of hearing children around the world.”

The time in Austria also allowed Ms Petersen to develop crucial relationships to complement the family centred outreach, awareness and advocacy work that Decibels of Love does, in South Africa.

She described the area in Austria as an interesting agricultural community in a valley where the sunrise and sunset are not actually seen because of the surrounding mountains and where the mostly white people spoke very little English. “It made me appreciate the vast variety of nature and animals we have at home, as well as the vast diversity of people,” she laughed.

“The first thing I did once I got home was go walk on the beach and watch the sunset over False Bay,” she grinned.

Ms Petersen said the conference gave her much food for thought, listening to solutions that are applied by fully resourced countries. And also, the unique opportunity to share what Decibels of Love does as a parent support structure and advocacy channel, and to meet parents and educators who were either deaf or hard of hearing themselves, or had children or parents who were.

“It made me realise how much we have in comparison to other countries, and how little compared to others, it showed me the relativity of our situation; and the opportunities we have, and how we are the ones who have to make the change together, and how inclusion – with parents, educators and all the way up is the way forward,” she says.

Ms Petersen was shown around by principal Martin Sturm from the Volksschulle Concordia in Bad Ischl.

“He was very hospitable and gave me a tour of their school. The building houses the mainstream and the special needs school which are both managed separately even though children are integrated, since it is the same building. They also accommodate children with special needs, such as blind and deaf children in the school, and the government offers the necessary services required for the children in the classroom, for example technology or facilitators,” she said.

The trip has put Ms Petersen in touch with many of the participants of the conference and she said she is looking forward to sharing the yield of further interaction and sharing of knowledge which will come from these relationships.