Coventry special needs educator awarded MBE

A Coventry special needs educator has won an MBE after over three decades of work with special needs children. Harshi Sehmar, principal of The Village International Education Centre in Thailand, received the accolade on June 14 from King Charles III and described a special connection to his work, being dyslexic himself.

Raised in Hillfields as a child of migrant parents, he said he felt “humbled” by the award.

“What I realised very early on was that I was struggling to read and write. I was doing a lot of reversals [of letters] and really basic things like that. I thought I was really dumb and stupid as I just couldn’t grasp reading and writing, although I was quite articulate and good in other areas.”

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Sehmar credited his time at Sidney Stringer College and his time being taught by former Secretary of State for Education Estelle Morris as a time at which he said his self-esteem and confidence were raised as teachers found ways to overcome his struggles with literacy.

“That was the calibre of teachers we had at that school at that time. Really high-powered and child-centred learning. There was a whole different approach.”

He said his time at Sidney Stringer College inspired him to take the path he did and after years working in London, he took an opportunity to work in Bangkok. Originally working with the international community, he now works with a mixture of foreigners and local Thai people.

It started with a two-year sabbatical working with an international school and at the end of it, he decided he needed to stay.

“I realised there was a lot that needed to be done in this region that I could do. I told my wife that I’d love to leave my job when my two-year contract was up and set up a special needs school.

“She said I was crazy and I said ‘I know’, and that’s when I set up The Village in 1999.”

25 years later, The Village has now helped hundreds of young people in Thailand from the ages of two to 22 with varying special needs and has pioneered approaches to diagnosing dyslexia in Thai schools.

“People were believing it was karma. Like you’d done something in the last life and that’s why your child has turned out like this. There was no real understanding of how to support these children. People were looking for cures.

“I was one of the first to start that conversation that ‘no there is no cure’. What there is are structure and programmes to support these children to go on and reach their potential.”

Despite the years spent out in Thailand, Sehmar said he still has a soft spot for Coventry.

“I live in Bangkok which is a huge city and London before that but I still have a soft spot for Coventry

“Every time I go back, I’ll stand and look at Lady Godiva's clock and stand there and watch her come out. And I’d go back with my kids when they were little, and even as young adults, and watch it.”