Just outside of Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, Doña Marta helps her 7-year-old daughter, Karen, into her wheelchair. After a few adjustments, Karen wheels over to a bird cage and pulls out her favorite of three birds.
As Karen watches her pet move along her fingers, Doña Marta shares Karen’s dream of someday becoming a veterinarian. Despite Karen having spina bifida, that dream may one day be a reality.
“When I first heard the diagnosis, I didn’t know what to do,” recalls Doña Marta. “But the Lord put many angels in my path.”
One set of “angels” that Doña Marta has encountered are the students and teachers at Nicaragua Christian Academy (NCA), a partner school of Christian Reformed World Missions.
A few years ago, NCA’s campus in Nejapa, Nicaragua, began an inclusive-education program that allows students of all abilities to be in the classroom together. Karen was one of the first students invited into this inclusion program.
Although Doña Marta was hesitant to send Karen to a regular classroom setting at first, many of her doubts vanished immediately.
“We thought that these people would treat us differently,” said Doña Marta, “but then I saw how they wanted to support us, help us, and play with her.
“It’s important for her to go to these classes because she has to prepare to be independent and become a professional,” Doña Marta added.
Karen’s classmates and teachers have also benefited from having her in the classroom. “Just as I have taught her, she has taught me so much,” said Salazar Gutierrez, Karen’s third-grade teacher.
Recognizing the role that inclusive education has had in the lives of students like Karen, CRWM missionary Andrew Ippel recently began a similar program for children who attend NCA’s larger school, NCA International.
This change meant that for the first time in the school’s 25-year history, NCA International accepted students with significant disabilities this August.
“I am so excited to see how God will move through this program,” said Ippel, “excited for our school to live out more deeply its mission of Christian education in Nicaragua.”