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Promoting the right to inclusive education in Uganda

 

In 2016, Uganda experienced a dramatic increase in refugee population. Data from UNHCR indicated that there were almost one million refugees in the country. Some of these refugees, at least 40,000, are settled at the Kyangwali refugee settlement.

 

Data from Uganda’s Child Protection Department from assessments of children with disability indicates that 1 in every 12 children born in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement is born with some form of disability. Although many are minor and do not completely impact on the child’s day-to-day life, 2 out of these are extremely severe physical and/or mental disabilities and this makes it difficult for them to get an education. In addition to having special needs which refugee parents may not afford, the parents of children with disability feel ashamed and stigmatized for parenting an ‘abnormal child’. The local community views as superstitious these ‘abnormal children’ and believes that they are a symbol of a bad omen. “...My husband abandoned me because his friends told him that I am responsible for abnormality of this child. Look at all these children. Why are they not all the same if I was to be responsible...?” asks Janet Dushabe, mother to Samuel Niwagaba, and an abandoned single mother of seven. 

 

AAH Uganda Inclusive Education

Samuel Niwabaga (in green shorts) playing with his siblings

 

 

AAH Uganda Inclusive Education

Samuel Niwabaga's Literacy Exam. He is said to be one of the best pupils in his grade.

 

Through the Child Protection Office, Action Africa Help Uganda (AAHU), is using a comprehensive approach to distinguish and align the rights of children with special needs, who are often without food, education and medical care. Our main focus is to help these children and their parents to access the resources and opportunities needed for them to realize their full potential and lead satisfying lives. “For a start, focus has been placed on the ‘Children with Special Needs’ category for children with extreme mental and/or physical disabilities,” says AAH Uganda’s Education Coordinator in Kyangwali, Abert Atwiine. With funding from UNHCR and Educate A Child, our education programmes in Kyangwali are more inclusive for children with special needs. AAH-U is:

 

  1. Conducting regular assessments of their special needs
  2. Providing support to meet the needs of their parents through livelihoods enhancement programs (supporting income generating projects)
  3. Using multi-sectorial village meetings / dialogues to raise awareness about the rights of children with special needs 
  4. Lobbying operating partners for more inclusive programming.

 

AAHU is currently working with over 70 families. Since the beginning of 2016, nearly 73 children with special needs have been directly assisted through AAHU’s model. During assessment, the local government of Hoima District offers assessment teachers (experts) who go round the refugee settlement reaching each child with special needs. They then recommend the action to be taken, the Special Needs Centre where the child should be placed and the kind of educational care to be provided. 

 

In 2017 alone, more than 50 children with special needs have been assessed. Of these, 35 have been taken on for education through funding by UNHCR and Educate A Child, while more than 30 others were recommended for placement in various centers.

 

“…Taking my child to school has been a miracle... His cognitive skills have greatly improved…He now knows money, animals and friends and he likes going to church,” says Viola Nyiranziyi, Baraka’s mother, on the role of school in improving literacy and numeracy for her disabled child.  

 

Currently, AAHU is directly providing material, assistive, medical, and educational support to 35 (19 female, 16 male) children with special needs. Of these, 13 are in pre-primary, 18 in primary grade while 4 are undergoing vocational training in tailoring and garment cutting. On average, each child with special needs is supported with tuition, scholastic materials, personal effects, and leisure items, medical and food requirements while at school, valued at about USD$400 per school term. This would be out of reach for most of the refugee parents. 

 

The intervention has yielded attractive educational outcomes as many children with special needs are now comparable to their physically able counterparts in literacy, numeracy and comprehension. “These children are as good as others, provided a good assessment has been done to place every one of them in the right place,” says Kaija Eseri, Head Teacher at Masindi Center for the Handicapped, which has a majority of the children with special needs referred by AAH-U.

 

 “The work of AAHU is commendable. Since the Congolese resettlement program started in early 2017, about 10 children with special needs have been successfully relocated in the USA. All these children left Uganda with a good grasp of English and basic numerical competence,” says Nsazibera Emmanuel, the Refugee Welfare Council (RWC) Chairperson in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. RWC is the highest political office in the refugee settlement.

AAH-U plans to capitalize on these gains by increasing the number of children with special needs attending schools to 100% by referring them to various centers competent to handle their special needs. Plans are also underway to support those with tailoring skills with a start-up kit so that they begin making garments for sale as soon as they complete their vocational training.   

Inspiring story ahead of the World Refugee day.