In January 2018, I went on my first official AbleChildAfrica field visit to our partners USDC in Uganda and ANDY in Kenya. As someone new to the disability sector, I was really excited to see how social model of disability and a child centred approach to inclusive education works in practice. With a jam-packed schedule spanning two weeks, fellow Programme Office, Alice, and I headed straight to Uganda to meet with the USDC team.
We travelled to Lira, northern Uganda, one of the districts where we are delivering our five-year Comic Relief funded ‘Inclusive Education’ project. This project aims to identify and enrol nearly 2,000 children with disabilities into schools 27 schools across Lira, Nebbi and Adjumani, so they are able to learn and achieve alongside their peers.
During our time there, we visited the home of a young girl benefiting from the projects’ activities, called Madeline, who developed a facial tumour as a child after contracting an illness. Growing up, this affected her ability to go to school due to the frequent physical pain and the bullying she faced from other children. Her parents struggled to know how to help her, but through the projects work in the area, the family was supported to access to medical advice, join the Parent Support Groups (PSG) and receive regular home visits from the school Child-to-child facilitators on how best to support Madeline. She now attends school regularly and has a strong circle of close friends that look out for her. Speaking to Julia, the Child-to-Child facilitator of Ayile School, she’s seen a significant change in children’s and parents behaviours towards disability in the area.
Escaping the intense heat of Uganda, Alice and I arrived in Nairobi the following week where things were surprisingly a little cooler! Diving straight into work with the ANDY team, we set off to monitor the progress of our three-year ‘Changing the Game’ Comic Relief project. This project promotes inclusive education through weekly sporting activities and Child Rights Clubs for both children with and without disabilities. Throughout the week I was able to visit 5 of the 6 project schools (both mainstream and special schools) in Nairobi, Thika and Dagoretti where I conducted home visits and met with different stakeholders including the sports coaches and other educational specialists.
In both Kenya and Uganda, I met with the Parent Support Groups (PSG’s) both on a district and local level, and listened to how the families of children with disabilities were working collectively to support each other, encourage respect and change perceptions of disability as a whole in their communities. Parents explained how their attitudes towards their own children had changed drastically through their improved understanding of their child’s needs. Now they proudly champion disability rights to other parents and stakeholders to improve resources for children with disabilities.
One mother from the Queen Rosary School PSG in Nairobi, where there are now over 30 members, spoke of their aspirations as a group beyond the emotional and financial benefits, “…ownership is empowering, we hope to use the group to build our skills and set up a rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities”.
One of my most memorable moments from the trip overall (other than seeing baby elephants!) was visiting Treeside Special School in Nairobi, where I able to observe their weekly outdoor activities. Witnessing these children with different intellectual disabilities excitedly lead clapping games with heaps of amusement and confidence was a nice reminder of the purpose of these projects. Children thrive best in environments that are welcoming of their needs; therefore it is crucial that a child’s full support system of parents, teachers, neighbours, friends and the government work in partnership with the child to achieve this.
It was an eye-opening experience to meet the network of actors working hard to make these projects a success, especially the children themselves leading the way to achieve inclusive education for all!