When Noelia Garella was a little girl, a preschool rejected her because she had Down syndrome. The preschool director labelled her a “monster”.
Now Garella is 31. She has achieved her dream of becoming a preschool teacher herself.
“What I like the most about being a teacher is the beauty of the children’s hearts, their love,” she tells AFP.
Garella is the only person with Down syndrome working as a teacher in Argentina, and one of only a few in the world. She has had to face a battle to get where she is. After finishing her studies, she started out as an assistant in a reading class. Her first employer, Alejandra Senestrari, admits not everyone was in favour of giving Garella a job.
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“There were people in positions of responsibility who were convinced that it wasn’t possible for a teacher with Down syndrome to actually teach,” she explains.
But gradually, Garella won everyone over – even the mayor in her city of Cordoba.
“With time, even those who had been opposed joined in the initiative to hire Noe as a teacher,” Senestrari adds. “We very quickly realised that she had a strong vocation. She gave what the children in the nursery classes most appreciate, which is love.”
Noelia Garella with some of her current students. Photo: Getty.
Garella is now jointly in charge of a class at the Jermonito preschool. Her current employer, Susana Zerdan, says having Garella at the school has been a "unique experience" for the staff.
"The way the children accept her, incorporating her naturally into the school - there is a lesson in life there for us all," Zerdan explains.
The father of one of Garella's students doesn't see it as an issue.
"We were told that a teacher with Down syndrome would start teaching and that we shouldn’t get scared," he remembers. "But I thought it was normal. I thought it was a very good idea for her to engage with the kids."
Garella appreciates "the beauty of the children's hearts". Photo: Getty.
Garella says she always feels good with the children.
"Their parents love me and the other teachers and principals I have had are wonderful."
One of her students is a boy with Down syndrome.
"He is wonderful," she adds. "Oh, it is lovely when someone like me is born."
— AFP news agency (@AFP) October 24, 2016
In her spare time, Garella like Latin dancing. She has recently "met someone", and would like to one day have children of her own.
When she's reminded of the preschool director who once called her a "monster", Garella gets teary. She says the woman sounds like one of the evil characters in the stories she reads her class.
"Now I’m the happy monster and she’s the sad monster," she says.