It is six o’clock in the evening and the traffic outside the institute is heavy. Both lanes are overcrowded and give no sign of moving forward. What is wrong today I wonder as I keep glimpsing nervously on the watch. I ask my colleagues but nobody knows….

This evening’s event is a happy occasion for many reasons. The initiators of the project are Lena Backstig and Margareta Jonsson. They have worked for many years with intellectually disabled children and developed methods to reach children who cannot speak and understand speech. They started with a pilot project at Fairhaven School for disabled children here in Alexandria. Based on a Swedish methodology and concept they have conducted two years of training and implementation at Fairhaven.  It is now clear to both teachers and parents that the children have developed a lot the past year. Margareta and Lena have looked forward to this day for a long time and it has been a dream come true to be able to present their work at the Swedish Institute Alexandria.

The vehicles outside the institute finally start to move slowly and the participants arrive in larger numbers. Thirty minutes after schedule we start with an audience of teachers and parents from all around Alexandria. A group of proud and enthusiastic teachers from Fairhaven are ready to present their efforts.

Margareta starts by introducing her work with visuals and stress on the importance of providing intellectually disabled with tools for communication. To be able to function in a society it is pivotal that you can speak and understand spoken language. Many intellectually disabled people cannot speak or have large difficulties to speak. A few can make themselves understood by gestures, mime and other non-spoken ways of expression but often conflict arises due to misunderstandings.

In the children’s convention article 23 it is written that “A child with disability has the right to an adequate and decent life that enables an active participation in society”. It is a democratic right to be able to ask for help and to be able to protest over something one doesn’t like. The group of disabled is often discriminated against since they cannot make their voice heard.

My eyes are filled with tears of happiness when I listen to the teachers and see the video clips of the children’s progress.

Lena ends the presentation with a vivid poem expressing the frustration and sadness a person who cannot express himself can feel.

A cheerful atmosphere fills the Blue Salon as we open up for discussion and by the end of the occasion Margareta and Lena hold a list 45 teachers who have signed up for the training  course of using Visual tools and methods, for intellectually disabled .

We leave the institute with a smile on our faces.

On my way home the traffic is moving apart from a temporarily congestion in Shatby where a wedding party has taken its celebration to the street. I feel warm inside!


Cecilia Sternemo

Deputy Director

Swedish Institute Alexandria