Kanza Bodden has an important job to do at George Town’s Little Trotters Farm and Nursery School. When the day care’s toddlers need an extra hug or a friend to play with, the 21-year-old is there to step in.
Ms. Bodden started working at the preschool in January with the job description of “giving love” to the children. As a young adult with Down syndrome, she has a unique ability to connect with the children and relate to them on a different level than other teachers.
“I give hugs when they’re fighting,” Ms. Bodden said.
She described her job as showing the toddlers how to get along and make friends. Through songs, stories and artwork, Ms. Bodden offers each student personalized attention.
Head teacher Carolyn Jervis described a special energy brought to the school by Ms. Bodden, who has used her creativity to connect with students.
For World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, she encourages other organizations to consider integrating special needs workers and learning from what they have to offer.
“She’s just so excited to see everybody. As soon as everybody comes in, she’s giving them a hug, saying good morning. She loves to write, so she’s normally written them a little story that she’ll read to them in the mornings,” Ms. Jervis said.
“She’s just so loving and affectionate, and the kids are always so happy to see her. When she comes in, she makes each one of them feel special.”
Ms. Bodden has helped push the concept of friendship at the preschool for students and teachers alike. Teacher Julia Marshall described a symbiotic relationship with her that has allowed students and staff to learn about community.
“It’s such a gift for the children to be exposed to someone who is beautiful and looks different than them,” Ms. Marshall said.
“She may look different but they see she’s awesome and helpful, kind, loving and intelligent. They see it doesn’t matter. They just love her and accept her, and love her company.”
Ms. Bodden also serves as a role model for the children. As a Special Olympics swimming champion, she has shown the students the rewards of hard work and recently brought in a gold medal to show them.
Getting to know a person like Ms. Bodden is something Ms. Jervis said she wishes she had done earlier in life. She has observed how young students feel at ease with Ms. Bodden and accept her without judgment.
“As teachers, I find it’s nice to have somebody else that the children can go to when they’re needing an extra cuddle. The children feel extra comfortable with her. If anyone is having disputes and is a bit sad, Kanza is so attentive to their emotional needs and she’ll really instinctively love on them,” Ms. Jervis said.
For Ms. Bodden, the experience has offered an invaluable development opportunity.
“They make me feel wanted,” Ms. Bodden said.
Nancy Bodden described her daughter as more confident and more comfortable helping with younger family members since starting the job. She has seen her become more energetic and more involved.
The ability to take on professional responsibilities has allowed Ms. Bodden to grow above and beyond previous learning programs, including work training at Sunrise Adult Training Centre and speech therapy at Chatterbox.
“Kanza has worked hard all her life to be able to be employed. She is ready to go in the morning and wants to learn. She has put in an awful lot of effort,” Nancy said.
Through Cayman’s Down Syndrome Support Committee and Special Needs Foundation, Nancy Bodden hopes to build community awareness.
While she has witnessed resources and support for Down syndrome grow since her daughter’s birth, she sees potential for greater inclusion and community support.
She encouraged the community to reach out and build friendships with people like her daughter.
“Don’t be scared to talk to these people. Don’t be scared to talk to anyone with a disability,” Nancy Bodden said. “It may take time, but try to engage and see what comes of it.”
In the meantime, Kanza Bodden is preparing for another Special Olympics competition in St. Kitts. When she returns, she is looking forward to sharing stories from the trip with her friends at Little Trotters.