St. Columb’s College


Pupils at St. Columb’s College

Hello, my name is Ana. I am from Spain but I live in Derry, Northern Ireland. My first memories of Makaton come from a video tape that I ordered when my daughter was recuperating from her heart surgery back in 2002. It was a video tape of Makaton Nursery Rhymes with Dave Benson Philips. My daughter was so poorly that I was never offered any formal training. They considered it an “unviable option” as there were little resources and they were only offered to those who were going to benefit most from the training...

Fast forward to June 2021, when despite the pandemic, lock-downs, remote teaching, remote learning, adjusting to the reality of having my daughter living in a residential setting, I qualified as Makaton Tutor. I did the Tutor Training via zoom. I was so lucky not only because my tutors were Zanna Finnerty and Tracy Clark but also because I met some of the most wonderful Makaton tutors: my fellow trainees. I found the whole experience both enriching and terrifying. (I didn’t know what zoom was until my tutor training and discovered that you can actually set the camera on top of the screen... )To this day, I meet regularly with my fellow tutors and we have become close friends. We practise; pick each other brains and we are hoping to meet in person one of these days...

As well as being a mum to a young lady with a rare chromosome disorder and a wonderful adolescent son, I am a full-time Modern Languages teacher in St. Columb’s College Grammar School. I wanted to become a tutor so that I could train the carers in my daughter’s setting, to show parents with children with special needs that we can do whatever we set our minds to, that there is hope; but I also wanted to bring Makaton to a main-stream setting. It is so important that everyone knows Makaton so that they can use it with those who rely on it as their way of communication.

I use Makaton everyday when I am greeting my colleagues and students, in the classroom when I am teaching, with my daughter... She is non-verbal but understands English, Spanish and Makaton and uses a Total Communication approach to get her point across.

I feel privileged that my workplace, St. Columb’s College, has incorporated Makaton Training as part of the Social Education Programme for our Year 13 students (formerly known as Lower Sixth). Every single year 13 student attends a Makaton Taster. Furthermore, as part of their Curriculum Enrichment, they also have the opportunity to do the Makaton Workshop Level 1.

I am so proud that nine of these young men have already achieved their Makaton Level 1; I am currently in the process of training another group of eleven students. These young men embraced Makaton and have learnt so much. They will be applying for part-time jobs, summer schemes, to work in voluntary organisations... They will be able to use what they have learnt in our wider community.

I firmly believe that education is the key. The more people that know Makaton the more inclusive society will become. When I train these young men, as part of the workshop, I talk about my own experience, about my daughter, about how a parent might feel when their child is not included or how a child might feel when he/she does not have the chance to make their voice heard.

Makaton makes it possible for everyone to build a better society. I love the core values of Makaton. I feel it is my duty as an educator and my privilege as a parent of a child with special needs to make sure that I spread the word. Makaton changes lives, not only the lives of those with special needs and/or communication difficulties but of everyone!