Leonard Cheshire has a longstanding relationship with UNESCO, providing disability specific technical expertise and advice as a formal partner.
As we work together to continue our global efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals, these stories demonstrate the importance of inclusive education programmes in creating opportunities for persons with disabilities. From the implementation of assistive technology devices, to supporting families and communities in understanding and appreciating disability, to providing educational and vocational opportunities for girls with disabilities, each story shows the value of disability inclusive projects in creating a more equal world for all.
Alice’s quest for education despite life challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic
Alice Atieno Ouma is 18 years old and lives with her husband and child in Wakesi village, Muhoroni Sub-County, Kisumu County, Kenya. Alice is currently a beneficiary of the Education for Life project, where she’s been attending numeracy, literacy and life skills classes since she joined in February 2020. She has an intellectual disability and has shown herself to be an active and dedicated learner in class.
Alice attended lower primary school but dropped out due to family challenges and the lack of a supportive school environment. She was sent to Nairobi, Kenya where she did menial work for a few years. She later left and went back home and eventually got married. Alice heard about the Education for Life project through a community event organised by the project. She went to the catch-up centre where she completed project assessments and was later admitted into the programme.
“When they called that I had been chosen to be one of the 30 girls in our catch up centre I was very excited for the opportunity! I have been attending classes before we closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alice explained.
Alice enjoys going to the centre and has made lots of friends. Spending three hours, three days of the week in the centre has really helped her. “What I like most about being here is that my fellow girls are very kind to me and the teacher always says when we are at the centre we are a big family,” Alice said.
Alice’s life has changed a lot because of the project. First, her literacy levels have improved. She also does well in mathematics, her favourite subject. Through the life skills and mentorship sessions that she attends, her self-confidence has also improved. She vividly remembers a session where they were chatting about reproductive health and the mentor took them practically through using a sanitary towel step by step.
“It was a very fun session. We all laughed and learned a lot because who thought putting on a sanitary towel could be talked about openly!”
Life has improved for both Alice and her family, and her husband has been encouraging her throughout her studies. Her husband has also learned a lot about how to support her and understand her better through a workshop organised by the project for households of girls with disabilities. They were taught how to appreciate and support those living with disabilities.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic uncertainty in the community. It has been a difficult time for Alice and her family. Her husband works at a sugar cane farm as a casual labourer and his income has not been consistent. To mitigate this, and have additional income in the family, she has been washing clothes for her neighbours during her free time when she is not at the centre.
When the centre was closed after the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Kenya, the project adapted by providing the Educator Facilitators and Mentors with airtime to reach out to the girls every week. They provided psychosocial support and offered some learning by providing small assignments on phones to keep the girls active. Additionally, Alice was provided with workbooks (Mathematics, English, and Kiswahili) to aid her to study at home. She was also provided with a dignity kit (sanitary towels, soap, underwear, etc). These items were very useful and relieved her of the stress of having to source them for herself.
With learning now resuming at the catch up centre, Alice is optimistic about her future. She hopes one day to own her beauty salon. She is sure that with the support of the project’s role models and career guidance sessions she will choose the right transition pathway to help her achieve her goals.
With all the efforts that the project has made, Alice shared that there is more that can be done to support girls with disabilities. This includes continuous sensitization of the community to be more supportive of girls like her, improvement of the teaching and learning materials in the centres and encouragement and additional training for the teachers that support them.
“This is the best project to have ever come in my community,” Alice said. “It has been helpful to girls like me. I am very grateful and I hope other girls like me will benefit from this great initiative.”
Emmanuel’s Story – Finding his future
Emmanuel is a 14 year old boy from Kizimba Village, Agwingiri Parish, Agwingiri Sub County in Amolatar district in Uganda. He is the ninth born in a family of ten. Both he and two of his sisters have hearing and speech impairments.
When Emmanuel was ten years old his father died. His mother couldn’t afford to keep him in a school for disabled children and believed he wouldn’t cope in a mainstream school.
So, Emmanuel went to live with a friend of his brother’s in Kampala. The friend became Emmanuel’s guardian and provided funding for him to go to school again. However, during the third year of his education in Kampala, his guardian passed away and Emmanuel had to go back to Kizimba village to live with his mother.
Back in the village, his mother was still unable to pay for him to attend school. She said: “Emmanuel has been very lonely at home with no friends since most children in the community attend school.”
For a while, Emmanuel had no choice but to stay at home and help out with domestic chores. But Emmanuel’s chance to go back to school came when the team from Leonard Cheshire’s Inclusive Education project in Amolatar District in Northern Uganda came to his local area. Their aim was to teach the community about disability and reduce the stigma around it, as well as identify children that could be supported by the project.
Emmanuel registered with the project, and soon after was enrolled at Omara Ebek Memorial primary school in Amolatar district. The project also provided support with his school fees and materials. Emmanuel now has teachers who can speak in sign language, so he feels welcome and comfortable to learn. His teachers have described him as a bright boy, one of the best in class!
Not only is Emmanuel making great progress with his education, but he’s also been making lots of friends. He loves playing football with them. His mother says: “Emmanuel is now a happy boy with many friends and is very confident.”
Through the work of the project, Emmanuel’s community now believe that children with disabilities have a future through inclusive education. Emmanuel says he’d also like to become a teacher himself one day so that he can help other children like him.
Small changes, big impacts – the importance of inclusive learning environments
Esther Banda is a primary school teacher at one of schools participating in Leonard Cheshire’s Inclusive Education project in the Eastern Province of Zambia. She took part in inclusive teacher training in May 2019.
Around the time that the inclusive education project was introduced at their school in January 2019, Esther had started teaching Efita, a 10-year-old learner with epilepsy and other developmental impairments. It was Esther’s first time teaching a student with a disability, and it was the first time that Efita had attended mainstream school. At first Esther did not know how to include Efita in the classroom activities. She was sure that Efita would not benefit from her class. Efita, who had never been to school before, showed signs of being afraid and disinterested in school and was constantly isolated from others.
However, after the teacher training, Esther is now better equipped to deliver lessons in an inclusive manner. She is now confident that Efita will be learning well with others. She has started implementing some of the inclusive approaches that she learned, including arranging the classroom into groups so that children learn from each other. She’s also been using different chalk colours to write on the board to help accommodate other learners with visual impairments. Her method of delivering lessons is no longer her original lecture style but is now more learner focused. She allows for more discussion and uses learning aids such as diagrams as a way of simplifying content.
The changes in teaching approach have helped improve Efita’s performance in class. He now mingles with his classmates and has made many friends. At the moment he enjoys basic tracing activities and playing a role in classroom exercises. He also enjoys being clapped by other children when he answers questions correctly in class. As a result, his confidence and interest in school have increased a lot.
These milestones made with Efita have convinced Esther that inclusive education works. She says: “I now know that children with impairments are like other children, they have the right to education and have the ability to learn like other children”.
Over the next 3 years, Leonard Cheshire expects to enrol 750 children with disabilities in five districts in the Eastern Province of Zambia. In the first year, 421 children have been enrolled.
Using technology to create positive learning environments
Pauline Okach is a teacher at Nyasare Primary School in Migori County Kenya. She is one of 75 teachers who have been taking part in a training programme for the Orbit Reader 20, an assistive technology device that helps people with visual impairments read in braille, as well as take braille notes. The programme is part of Leonard Cheshire’s innovation initiative to expand the use of innovative low-cost assistive technology to learners with disabilities living in rural and under resourced areas.
The portable devices are light weight and operate in two main modes. The stand-alone mode has the capabilities of reading, writing and file management for books that have been translated into electronic braille. The remote mode allows the reader to be connected to a computer with a screen reader, with a removable memory card and Bluetooth connectivity. The devices allow children to read and write in braille, with notes that can then be converted back to electronic print for the teacher to read and grade accordingly.
As part of Leonard Cheshire’s Girls’ Education Challenge Transition project, a number of training modules have been developed so that teachers can help their students get the most out of the technology. While the Covid-19 pandemic affected schools around the world, teachers were still able to take part in the Orbit Reader 20 training, ensuring they were ready to support students on their return to school. The training was conducted by Leonard Cheshire staff in partnership with eKitabu, who developed the online training tutorials. The tutorials were then shared via Whatsapp, where the teachers were able to interact with and support each other.
To ensure progress was being made, individual follow up calls were made to the teachers following each tutorial, with ongoing support being provided by the instructors. An end-of-training assessment was also carried out to identify any knowledge gaps and ensure the teachers had access to further support if they needed it.
Pauline works in an integrated mainstream school which accommodates students with and without disabilities. A number of her students have visual impairments, including ten-year-old Marydith. Pauline already had good knowledge of the importance of inclusive education, taking part in training a few years ago in order to learn how best to support students with a range of disabilities and needs. Originally, she said her attitude towards disability was negative, but it is much more positive now she has had access to training. Following the recent Orbit Reader training, Pauline has been supporting Marydith to use the technology in class. With the use of the devices, Marydith has been using the Orbit Reader to learn the letters of the alphabet in braille. She can also use it to type and delete notes, helping her engage in class.
There have been a number of other adjustments made at the school to ensure Marydith is fully included. This includes clear, level pathways to help her move more freely around the school and highlighted doorways and steps with yellow or white paint making them more obvious to assist her. There is also an adapted timetable that ensures Marydith gets the learning support she needs, with extra time during lessons to help her use the Orbit Reader. In addition, she is a member of the school’s child to child club, where she gets to interact with her peers and demonstrate the value of inclusion.
Pauline believes that these universal design measures, as well as the introduction of assistive technology, has helped improve inclusion in the school and changed the attitudes of other students. Before, there was a lot of stigma around disability and other students felt nervous to be around children with visual impairments. Now, they have much more awareness and appreciation for disability. They accommodate Marydith and help her move around the school between classes. This has created a positive atmosphere at the school, reducing bullying and creating a productive learning environment for the students. The Orbit Readers have also greatly improved Marydith’s learning progress. She can now read and write without straining her eyes, allowing her to succeed in class and stay on the same level as her classmates.
Without assistive devices like the Orbit Readers, children with severe visual impairments would not have the same opportunities for education and may even feel discouraged to attend school. Pauline hopes that more teachers can get access to training on the technology so that even more students can benefit from these and other devices.
The power of data in advocacy
Youth advocate Ian Banda tells us how data can help him make changes in Zambia.
There is so much power in data. Data – like personal stories and facts and figures – is so important in getting a strong message across. In fact, it was central to my role as lead citizen reporter on Leonard Cheshire’s 2030 and Counting project.
The community citizen reporters and I went out and gathered community insights with our phones. We would then submit the content to a central reporting hub. The aim was to find data and stories about the barriers, challenges and opportunities for youth with disabilities in Zambia. Specifically, in relation to health, education and employment. This data is so important in tracking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And making sure disabled people are included in this progress too! Because there is no single SDG that covers just disability, but the 17 SDGs can only be achieved if people with disabilities have their rights fulfilled.
I found Rebecca’s story on education during a data collection trip in the local community. I was touched by how much Rebecca valued education. She knew it could improve her life. She has really big dreams for our country and access to education is an important part of that. I feel personal stories are important for advocacy. They show the impact on a personal, individual level. And they show what is transpiring on the ground with regards to disability inclusion. Stories also help provide a clear picture when providing evidence-based advocacy. This is essential if you want to bring about change at a higher level.
After 2030 and Counting I set up Youth in Action for Disability Inclusion of Zambia (YADIZ). We are a youth-led disability inclusion organisation. We promote the inclusion of youth with disabilities in all aspects of life. I know the information available on Leonard Cheshire’s Disability Data Portal will really help us with our work.
The portal gives us access to evidence for our advocacy work. Valuable data on the portal from census' shows that Zambian policies and practices have gaps when it comes to disability. These figures can go a long way in highlighting concerns and irregularities in the way the government implements policy. Especially in areas like education and employment. These gaps need to be filled in order for disability inclusion to be a reality in Zambia. No one should be left behind and we are the best placed to bring that message to governments.
As the portal continues to expand we will also be able to see how we compare with other countries and assess gaps in other areas. From work in the community we know there are issues when it comes to inaccessible sexual reproductive health for people with disabilities. As well as negative attitudes displayed by health personnel. There’s also a lack of information in accessible formats. And despite Zambia having some progressive policies, there is no implementation, monitoring and evaluation framework to really track progress. That was also a recurring issue many people with disabilities experienced across the world. The simple lack of accessible information about Covid-19 put us at a disadvantage. Access to better quality data, like the portal, can help us highlight these issues.
When it comes to advocacy, it’s essential everyone has access to research. That way we can improve public knowledge and awareness of the rights of people with disabilities. Data and stories are two sides of the same coin. By combining the two, we can influence laws and policies so that they are inclusive.
Universal design at Mcini Primary School
Leonard Cheshire and Cheshire Homes Society in Zambia have been working together to make vital school adaptations at Mcini Primary School in Zambia. Now the school is much more accessible for children with disabilities.