One day in Riga

So, I went from Lithuania to Riga, Latvia. On my way there I thought that I also wanted to see Jūrmala and visit the memorial in Salaspils… But it didn’t happen, I didn’t have time at all. I stayed just one night in Riga, in a hostel in the city center.

Here is some information about the hostel: Seagull Garret Hostel, situated in the very city center in a ten-minute walk from the main square. The prices vary, but on average it’s around 7-8 euro per night. All the employees speak Russian, it’s very clean, and there are good rooms with separate bathrooms. And the best perk for travelers is that for 5 euro your clothing will be washed and dried in a special machine in just one night. It’s very valuable, as due to my frequent trips my clothing has no time to dry after washing. All in all, I recommend you this hostel.) The only problem was that they lost my sock while washing. ><.

Памятник мэру города Рига и его жене - Рига
Monument to the Mayor of Riga and his wife

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Lithuanian Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Several times, I came across promotional leaflets with photos of private schools. Clean wide corridors, spacious classrooms, large windows, new whiteboards, good furniture, pleasant colors and neat interiors…

This is how the public school for deaf children in Vilnius looks. It is the biggest educational center in Lithuania, and almost the only school for deaf children. The center comprises a kindergarten (for children from 3 to 7) and a school (for children from 7 to 18).

Children in Lithuanian general education schools study for 12 years (like in Latvia), while deaf

children in special schools study for 13 years. And the school that I visited is a dream school.=)

Литовский центр образования глухих и слабослышащих - Коридоры детского сада
Corridors of the kindergarten

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Užupis. A state within a state

There’s a unique district of Užupis in Vilnius. It sounds a bit weird, yes.:) It’s a district of local Bohemia… Here, there live artists, musicians, sculptors… This city district has its own constitution (!) and its own population, different from others. I read about this place as long ago as at school, and I’ve wanted to visit it for a long time. So, having reached Vilnius, I went there first of all. The district is connected to the city by small bridges, the walls are painted everywhere, and the center is decorated with a statue of the Užupis angel. There is a wall here with dozens of constitution copies in various languages.

Here again, I got assured that travelers are lucky. After deciding that I needed at least something to eat, I bought some food in a supermarket and went to look for a garden to sit in. A rain started, and I had to take cover in one of the courtyards not to get completely wet. I had hardly started my meal before a door of one of the nearest buildings opened and a man said to me in pure Russian: “Why are you sitting here? A tourist? You’ll get cold. Come in.” The man turned out to be a Lithuanian called Vitaliy. He served in the army in Russia, so he knows Russian well. Vitaliy treated me to wild rose tea and talked for several hours about Lithuania, Vilnius, Užupis and his life to the day we met.

Мост, ведущий в Ужупис
The bridge leading to Užupis


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Vilnius. First Impressions

I’ve already been in a new country for several days, and haven’t sent any news! Not good.

I don’t even know where to start! It’s the second time that I’ve been in Vilnius, in Lithuania. But my adventures in this city in the last two days can’t be compared with a guided tour: “Look right. Now look left.” To say the truth, my meeting with the city started with a disappointment… My expectations to have a warm trip were disappointed by +8°C in the morning and a hat pulled over my frozen ears. The awakening city welcomed me with ice-cold wind and Saint-Petersburg-like architecture. At a certain moment, I felt like I hadn’t left Russia: there were people speaking Russian everywhere, typical five-storey blocks on the outskirts and dumpy plastered buildings in the city center. However, the difference feels in the atmosphere. Everything is somehow… simpler. You don’t see preoccupied people in a hurry, grim cashiers and peevish drivers. The mood is steady, calm and moderately amiable.

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Finland. On schools

During the first trip, I could only learn a little about schools for children with hearing loss, because I had to go back to Russia. In Helsinki, the last school for deaf children was closed around 10 years ago, as they decided that children with hearing loss are better off studying with their peers who hear well. So, we are talking about integration of children with hearing loss into the environment of their peers who hear well. Nowadays, we hear the words “integration” and “inclusion” more and more often. I would like to explain the major difference. Both terms imply different involvement of a child with limited health capacities (“a child with limited health capacities” is an official term in Russia) in the education system. Integration presupposes that a child with disability is integrated into the environment of ordinary peers, and studies and develops according to the standard requirements. In other words, we just place a special child from a special institution to an ordinary one, and he or she studies there. During integration, A CHILD WITH LIMITED HEALTH CAPACITIES ADAPTS TO THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE ENVIRONMENT.
Integration can be different.
 Full integration: a child with limited health capacities constantly studies with ordinary peers and constantly spends out-of-school time with them;
 Non-full integration: a child with limited health capacities studies with ordinary peers and spends most of his or her out-of-school time with them;
 Partial integration: a child with limited health capacities spends only a part of his or her school and out-of-school time with ordinary peers;
 Occasional integration: a child with limited health capacities is only united with ordinary peers on special events and festivities. The purpose of this kind of integration is to organize at least minimum interaction between children.
As for inclusion, it implies acceptance of each child’s personality, and the studies are organized so that all educational needs of the child are satisfied. An individual study program is created. Thus, inclusion presupposes that THE ENVIRONMENT ADAPTS TO THE NEEDS OF A CHILD WITH LIMITED HEALTH CAPACITIES. Thus, we can consider inclusive education more humane. And more advanced.
So, the last school for deaf children in Helsinki (Albert’s School) was disbanded and moved to a general education school. Thus, we can call it partial integration, as despite the fact that all the children study in one school, children with limited health capacities (in this case they are children with hearing loss) study in separate classes and interact with their peers who hear well only on walks, special events and festivities. Moreover, some lessons are held together. I managed to get to the school and talk to the director. She turned out to be very friendly, though she was utterly amazed by my visit. I couldn’t contact this school in advance, as Russian search engines didn’t give me any information even for a search in English. These were my acquaintances in Helsinki who helped me find this school through Finnish search engines, and even this took a lot of trouble. The school looks like in a traditional American movie: friendly children, light corridors, everywhere there are children’s handicraft, models, drawings, good repairs… The atmosphere is that of a festive day.
As I said before, children with hearing loss study in separate classes. They have one hearing teacher and two deaf ones. All the three speak Finnish and English excellently and write skillfully. As I had to return to Russia very quickly, I couldn’t observe the lessons, but now I’m corresponding with the school’s teachers, and I will surely let you know about the new information that I’ll be able to get! I will go back to this school during my future journey, in autumn.
The school’s name: Albertin koulu
Address: Finland, Helsinki, Viinenkuja, 6

Non-Coincidental Coincidences

As many of you know, I’m now having a holiday with my mother in Greece, on the Kos Island. We are staying at a rather small hotel not far from the only town on this island. And it is here, on a thinly populated island, among a whole variety of holiday-makers, that I managed to meet teachers of deaf and hard of hearing children! I watched a family of three for several days, having certainly realized that one girl was deaf. Then, I came up to them to make their acquaintance. It turned out that the whole family had come from Poland for a holiday. The eldest woman was hearing, and she was a teacher for deaf children, while the young deaf woman was a tutor at a residential school for deaf children, and the little girl of around 5 years old was a daughter of one of them, and she was hard of hearing. She fingerspelled quickly, but didn’t feel like communicating a lot. We talked, and below I would like to quote what they told me about education for deaf people in Poland, in the city of Wrocław.

“In our country, children are diagnosed on the very first day after birth. They are given hearing aid right away or are offered cochlear implantation. All hard of hearing children go to ordinary kindergartens and ordinary schools. It is very rare that hard of hearing children with underdeveloped speech go to schools for deaf children. Deaf children go to special kindergartens and attend them for three years, and then they go to special schools. Most of the children live in residential schools. They attend school for 11 years, like the hearing: 7 years of primary school and 4 years of secondary. They usually don’t continue education after school, though there are several colleges that give this opportunity. There are few deaf teachers in schools. Deaf people mostly become school tutors (those who help children outside of class hours). Children are mostly taught oral speech. Many teachers face problems with children learning Polish oral speech after the Polish sign language. It is caused by the complex grammar of oral speech, and by differences in word order. Many children, having learnt sign language, have difficulty reading, as they can’t understand many words or whole phrases. Studying to be a teacher for deaf children in Poland takes a lot of time. Everyone should study for 5 years and receive educational training, and then learn the specialty itself for 2 years: learn working with children who have hearing or vision loss. Apart from this, one has to complete a course in sign language, as they are not included into the compulsory study program. Only after this you receive the right to work.”

I can add that the family was extremely friendly, and they eagerly answered to my suggestion to talk. We also discussed sign language: many signs are alike, but some of them are difficult to recognize. I was invited to Poland to see for myself how the education is organized. I hope that I’ll be able to do it within my research.

Apart from this, there were three young men with hearing loss staying in our hotel! All the three of them had prosthetic appliances: hearing aid on each ear. They spoke English and Greek (?) fluently. I couldn’t accurately identify the second language. I can conclude that the young men were hard of hearing, and not deaf, judging from the state of their speech. I didn’t have a chance to talk to them, as they were at the hotel very rarely, and I mostly saw them from afar. I ran into one of them only once.

These were not the only instances when I met my specialty! I learnt that there was no special school for children with hearing loss on the island (the island is very small, and in case of need children are sent to the Isle of Rhodes or to the continent). However, right near us there was a school for children with various disabilities. There, children from Kos and the closest thinly populated islands study together. The school is not public, as its director, a Greek citizen, organized and opened it himself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to the school, as the children are on holiday now, but I’ll come to Greece again and will be able to learn everything.

One cannot escape one’s own goal.