Being differently abled does not mean being disabled – Teacher Orissa Sinclair

…“My students are amazing”

By Lakhram Bhagirat

If Guyana awarded its teachers special prizes for going above and beyond for their students then Orissa Sinclair would be a front runner every single year because she is just that invested.
Sinclair, a teacher at the New Amsterdam Special School in Berbice, has been in the profession just about 18 years now and the passion is still there.
The 35-year-old mother of two grew up in Sandvoort Village, West Canje, with her single mother. Her father committed suicide just after she finished writing her Common Entrance Examination.
“From there the challenges grew, it was hard for my mother but she tried her best. My brothers would strip broom and stuff like that to help provide food and passage for us…so just after writing CXC, because of the circumstances I grew up in, I knew that I needed to get a job. I didn’t want to live in poverty all the time and I needed to be able to help my siblings and I also needed a better life for me, so I just started working just out of school,” she said.
She first entered into the teaching world in 2003 when she started at the David Rose Special School in Georgetown and worked there until 2013 when she moved back to Berbice and started at the New Amsterdam Special School.
There, she teaches all subjects in the primary curriculum and is also trained to teach braille to visually impaired students.
When asked about the challenges of executing her duties, Sinclair said that there are many but it is her view that not much resources are being given to the advancement of special needs education.
“Much is not being put into the special needs arena for me. It desires more. To teach at a special needs school you have to have patience and you have to put a little bit more into it. You have to devise a lot of strategies and you have to be open-minded because if you are not open-minded then you will find it difficult. Like communicating and so for me was difficult at first because I didn’t know sign language but now, I don’t practice it much but I can communicate with the children.
Another issue I have is the way people talk about the children or look at them and even you as a teacher working with children, the ‘normal’ people would look at you and think funny of you because you are working with those children. They would actually ask you ‘how you able with them mad children’ and stuff but they don’t know there is a joy working with those kids. They may have a disability but they also have ability and you may be amazed at the things those kids can do. Differently abled does not mean disabled because my students are amazing,” she explained.
Though still an untrained teacher, Sinclair said that she would avail herself to attend all the workshops and training seminars to better position herself to deal specifically with the children in her care.
When asked as to how she communicate with her students during the pandemic, she said: “I use worksheets and because most of the kids in my class they don’t have access to internet so what I do is call them on the landline or cellphone. When the parents pick up the worksheet, I call them, explain to them and let their parents work with them but I check in with them periodically to see how they are coming along.”

Single parent
The reason for Sinclair moving back to Berbice was because she and her husband separated. That left her and her two daughters alone. However, she explained that while they are separated and the children live with her, her ex-husband would still play his part in supporting them.
Both of her daughters are teenagers and according to her, working and raising them requires a special kind of balance.
“You have to know how to balance. It is very challenging at times but they are at that teenage stage and it is that time that they think they know everything. I have learnt over the years that there are different ways of parenting your children so what I do now is talk to them, I mostly talk to them because as a child I didn’t have much people around to talk to. There were lots of people around yes but even though you had a lot of people around there was not a lot of people to understand you or understand what you are going through and express your feelings or advise you. There was not this family support so I try to be there for my children and I sit and talk with them and explain things to them about their actions and so,” she explained.
When asked about what advice she has for other single mothers, she related: “Life is going to be hard. It is going to be challenging and you have to stand strong and most importantly, you have to seek God. Once you have God in your life it doesn’t mean that things are going to be easy but it means that all things are possible and you will get through. Once you have that connection with him, build a relationship with him and he will see it through.
“Once you have supportive friends and family, link with them. This is where you need people that you can depend on. Don’t shut people out. Embrace people who genuinely care and when you feel stressed, find someone to talk to. As a single parent, your children are watching you, use them as your motivation to beat the odds.”
She recently graduated with her diploma in Social Work from the University of Guyana.