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Oscar Goldszmidt: Maria Claro

Not only is experiencing joy essential for everyday quality of life, it’s also vital for learning and therapy.

The story of Maria Claro

In Brazil, providing education and treatment through fun, with dance, music, storytelling and puppetry, is an integral part of what the Day Care Centre Creche Especial Maria Claro does.

Maria Claro was born from the dream of people who believed in the possibility of transforming the lives of special people. In the 1960s, Maria Gloria Claro Rodrigues Camargo received land as an inheritance from her parents in Sorocaba, Sao Paulo. She donated it to the religious spiritualist home Hogar Espírita Iván Santos de Albuquerque and volunteers then worked to build a centre that would help children with multiple disabilities.

The centre as it stands today became a reality in 1993, beginning with only five children. Today it serves around 130 children and teenagers from underprivileged families and provides free education, therapeutics, food, transportation, diapers, medicines and special diets for those with gastrostomy (tube feeding) and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Andréa Marques Machado, besides being the Pedagogic Coordinator of the Institution, dances with the children in wheelchairs and creates the choreography of the shows in which she and the caregivers sing and dance with the children for their mothers.

Andréa says that art languages have a special meaning for students with disabilities, because they develop imagination, divergent thinking, self-expression, social inclusion and intuitive thinking.

“These children teach me every day that if there is life there are no limits. It is what we want to show to the world – that through dance, or any other talent, disability is not synonymous to incapacity”, Machado said.

Oscar the puppeteer

Oscar Goldszmidt Don volunteers his time at Maria Claro, working with children through storytelling, theater and marionettes. His goal is to engage children in a therapeutic way.

“Through music, storytelling, puppetry, dancing in wheelchairs and theater, we develop the hidden talents of these kids, improving their self-esteem and joy of living”, Oscar said.

Oscar came into the role later in his life after having a few different careers.

“When I started telling stories to these children with disability I didn’t have any experience in dealing with these kids. I was an engineer, a translator, an actor, and lately a storyteller and a puppeteer, so it was quite a challenge!” Oscar said.

“I am now 79 years old, and working with these kids – to love and be loved by them – has been the most gratifying period in my whole life.”

The marionette in particular, in addition to being fun and interactive, can be a very important device for people with disabilities from a neurological point of view, for motor coordination.

The therapists’ research into the centre’s programs show that storytelling and manipulating marionettes provides benefits to a child’s motor, cognitive and emotional condition. It helps improve perception of surroundings, concentration periods and vocabulary, along with a feeling of belonging and empowerment. Participating in these programs can also improve cervical and trunk posture.

Oscar with his stories and marionette, and the therapists’ teamwork, develop imagination and expand creativity.

Oscar’s passion is working with children to make real individual improvements.

“After some time telling stories to the children, one girl still spoke in an unintelligible language. This motivated me to try to see if we could improve her oral communication. Working together with the other therapists, we helped the girl to start speaking better and now you can understand what she says”, Oscar said.

Oscar is currently writing a book on puppetry in education and therapy, looking into how to use puppetry in the classroom and how art can be applied to special needs education.

The power of music

Rafael Marques Vallin has worked in music for more than 10 years at Maria Claro. He has recorded a CD with his students, where six children played and sang. He was also involved in the show based on the book “Tudo Bem ser Diferente” (“It’s Cool to be Different”), composing a song .

“Music classes serve primarily to improve self-reliance, socialisation, appreciation for others, respect, and educational, motor and emotional development. Generally, people see the problems first. Music, and art on the whole, first discovers the potential”, Rafael said.

Rafael says that in an institution like this, the practitioner must first work on respect and sharing experience with his students.

“Teaching should be done gradually, respecting the limitations and the pace of each student. The teacher has to have a very strong will, patience and perseverance that will allow him to transform, as far as possible, his students”, Rafael explained.

“He must learn with them, cultivate their affection, treat them with care, and pay attention to the possibilities and abilities that will allow them to develop.”

“What is most gratifying is the mere hint of a smile, in severe cases, and sometimes a joyous laugh that represent an improvement in the quality of life of the students – the main objective of Maria Claro”, he said.