Monday and Tuesday mornings we had classes, where we were looking further into Inclusive Education. Together we reviewed all the UN Declarations outlining the rights of disabled people, the rights of children, the rights of everyone to an education, and then started investigating how different countries have put that into action. For our presentations next week each group will be summarizing the education system of a country and how that country has implemented (or not implemented) inclusive education.
Then on Wednesday morning we visited Chance B, an organisation in Eastern Styria that works with disadvantaged people. They offer a range of services but their main focuses are supporting the families of children with disabilities and special educational needs, and assisting people facing discrimination in the labour market to transition from school, through training and apprenticeships to independent employment. We visited one of their partner companies, who currently employ 11 apprentices through
That night we headed to the university for pizza and a movie – TheIntouchables, a French film about a rich paraplegic, Philippe, who hires a rough man from the streets, Driss, to be his carer and the change it brings about in both of them. It was fascinating to see how Philippe liked Driss because of his utter lack of pity or sympathy for Philippe. They both treated each other as equals, despite one being rich and cultured and the other being poor and rough, and despite one being confined to a wheelchair and then other being physically fit and healthy.
The next day, Thursday, was a free day, so we spent the daytime working on our assignments and packing forour weekend trip to Vienna, before heading to an ice hockey game that night. Ice hockey was an extremely fun cultural experience, and some of us are now a little addicted to the sport.
We left for Vienna bright and early on Friday morning, with Georg, our activities coordinator. When we arrived, we dropped our luggage off at the hotel and headed into the city centre for a walking tour. The tour took us through the Hofburg palace, past Hero’s Square and the Museum Quarter and into the City Centre to St Stephen’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was freezing that morning! By the time the tour ended we were almost frozen – luckily we found a restaurant with good Viennese food to warm us up.
After lunch and a bit of souvenir shopping, we headed to the Imperial Treasury. This was an awe-inspiring experience – to see the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperors and the sword of Charlemagne blew us away. There were lots and lots of interesting items – the largest cut emerald in the world, collected chains from the Order of the Golden Fleece, coronation robes, coats of arms, crowns and jewels and everything the elite used to convey their wealth and power.
Then we had some free time – some headed off to explore the city, some to the Art History Museum and some to the Natural History Museum. The group had fun navigating the U-Bahn – Vienna’s underground train system – to find dinner and get back to the hotel. It had been a long day and we were all pretty tired that night.
Saturday we headed first of all to the Austrian National Library, which used to the be the Imperial Palace Library when the Hapsburgs were ruling. This was definitely a highlight for many of us – it was beautiful. The State Hall section, the oldest part of the library, held 15 000 books from before 1850 – including one from the 1300s. More than one of us expressed the desire to live there, amongst the books!
Georg showed us to the Naschmarkt – Vienna’s oldest markets. As well as all kinds of food, from falafel to baklava to exotic olives to sweets and treats such as fudge, there is a huge flea market held every Saturday. You could wander through the maze of stalls for hours and not be bored – and not reach of the end of it! Some of us went to a traditional Viennese coffee house nearby, before finding lunch at the markets, while others used all their free time exploring the maze of goods for sale.
After lunch the tone of our adventure in Vienna changed, as we visited Steinhof. Steinhof was a psychiatric hospital when it opened in 1907, where many people, including a lot of children, were treated for long term mental health problems. However, when the Nazis rose to power in Germany and annexed Austria, it became a place where mentally ill and 'socially undesirable' people - especially children - were sent. These vulnerable people were kept in awful living conditions, as the Nazis did not want to waste medicine or food on those they thought unworthy of life. The doctors in charge performed experiments on the children, many of which resulted in death. Later on, the doctors also started euthanizing those people deemed never able to fit into the Aryan social ideal. 1500 people were either directly or indirectly killed here. Most of the doctors involved were never taken to court.
It was sobering to see a place where so many had suffered, but it also reinforced why inclusive education is so important. When we label humans as ‘other’ and ‘not like us,’ it becomes easier to see them as ‘less than.’ When we deny that all humans were created equal and when we deny the principles we have agreed on – that all children, all people, deserve access to education – we start down a slippery slope of what human rights are negotiable and which are not. The visit to Steinhof was eye opening for a lot of us in terms of what is at stake and the risks the young people in our care would have faced less than 100 years ago.
Sunday morning was our final outing in Vienna – Schronbrunn castle, the Imperial Summer Residence. We explored the gardens, with the fountains and stunning views, for an hour before going inside on an audio guided tour. The palace was easily one of the most impressive and decadent buildings I have seen, with gilded gold and silk hangings everywhere you looked, and room after room of stunning luxury.
After a quick lunch, it was back on the bus and now we’re here at home in Graz, ready for one more week of classes and study and trams and trying out our clumsy German phrases before it’s time to head home again.