International visits create learning

It’s a rainy and dreary Thursday when 11 students and a professor from VIVES University College in Belgium step out of the bus in front of the village of Solund. They nestle up in their jackets while pedagogue Gitte Henze welcomes them and shows them inside.

Gitte makes small talk with the students, but it does not take long for the conversation to naturally turn into a tale of Solund’s history and slips further into what the students came to hear about – namely Gentle Teaching.

The next two hours offer storytelling, video clips, questions from the students as well as a tour of Solund’s area with a peek inside the snoezelen house which makes almost every student reach for their cameras.

Written by Malina Müller
Translated by Majbritt Sørensen

The visit is a preparation for employment

Amoury Pipe is a professor at VIVES University College. It is her first visit at Solund, but the students from VIVES have visited Solund for more than a decade. She finds these visits very important as the students are introduced to methods and ideas by visiting other countries, which they might not have heard about before. First and foremost, the students come to learn more about Gentle Teaching, but other subjects are also of interest:

“For example, in Belgium it is allowed and normal to use belt fixation, so it is exciting to hear how you work when it is not allowed here. The students take all the impressions home with them and work with them.” Amoury Pipe explains.

The Belgian students make assignments and presentations based on their research done during the trip. This involves them to e.g. relate to whether or not there is something they can bring with them to their future employments and what this will require of them.

It is evident that Gitte Henze’s stories from her own everyday life with the residents at Solund create a big impression on the students. The stories convey the joy when something is successful – and also evoke thoughts about what it takes on a purely human level to work with people who have disabilities.

The village learns from the guests

When an educational institution chooses to come back to Solund year after year, it can be seen as an affirmation and recognition of a job well done.

”Visits from abroad do validate us in the fact that we’re doing a good job,” says Trine Schierff who is the deputy director at the village of Solund. But the visits also evoke learning and reflections internally at Solund.

The self-reflection is important for both management and staff, Trine Schierff emphasizes. Being a big organization like Solund poses a risk of becoming enough on its own – and that cannot happen. Trine Schierff’s experience tells her that there is always something new to learn and possibilities for inspiration.

Trine Schierff also feels that this new knowledge does not stem exclusively from countries with a highly developed level of expertise on the area. Some countries have limited possibilities, and they often have a completely different way of relating to people with disabilities. Trine Schierff gives an example:

”Several places abroad focus on how important the family is for the person with disabilities. 25 years ago many of our residents didn’t have any contact with their relatives. We took over because we were the professionals and the relatives could just go home and relax. We’ve learned to appreciate the connection with the relatives again, because we understand how important it is for the residents to have another network than the professional.”

The echo is infinite throughout day-to-day life

Trine Schierff believes that having the employees actively participating in the communication when receiving visits from the outside world is a part of making the employees more qualified to do their jobs.

Being the recipient of guests and having told about her work at Solund on many occasions, Gitte Henze agrees with this statement.

She does not just provide a service when telling about her work at Solund.

“It benefits me greatly to show something from a day-to-day life which gives so much meaning. Gentle Teaching contains such an important message that I want to convey to as many people as possible. And as it also happened today, I was asked a lot of really good questions that force me to reflect on my own practice. There’s an expression: ‘Walk the talk’ – am I doing what I’m saying that I do?”

Gitte Henze experiences that many of the visitors react to Gentle Teaching by saying that they don’t have the time for it. Meeting others with the loving approach, as Gentle Teaching requires of you, takes too long in their objective.

“But it isn’t about time. It’s about the way we are with each other.” Gitte Henze makes clear. “Mother Theresa says that a kind word and a kind act is a fleeting thing, but its echo is infinite.”

Walk the talk

Outside of the snoezelen house, the group of Belgian students encounters one of the residents from Solund by chance. He is searching for Easter eggs at the sensory gardens. Gitte Henze approaches him with a smile, and takes her time to have a short chat and a hug before guiding the students into the snoezelen house. The resident joyfully gets back to his hunt while sending big smiles to the group of students on his way.

Back home in Belgium a reunion awaits with other students who have been visiting e.g. Scotland and Berlin. The various visits are lively discussed among the students after returning home, professor Amoury Pipe says.

”It is very motivating for the student to be introduced to new ideas and to see how their work can be done in other ways. And at the university, we are always looking for new methods and new ways to better our work. I hope to return next year with a new group of students.”