I chose to study Eastern and Southern Africa because to me there is such a high need for light still to be shed in Africa. Many parents that participate in language programs in my community are from Kenya and Uganda. Equal and quality education is a huge area of opportunity that young children in these regions need. In one particular region, Uganda, schools are rarely equipped to teach students with varied abilities. There are no schools that provide ramps and physical access to children with wheelchairs or physical impairments. I addition, many schools Rwanda and in the region of eastern and southern Africa do not have inclusive education (Houser, 2018).
Veronica Houser (2018), shares and reports about Ntawimenya family in Rwanda, whose child, Olivier, was bullied and discriminated against because of his disability. Olivier had physical delays and weak motor skills and was not being treated fairly or being included in many school activities. Worst, no one knew how to teach Olivier or strengthen his physical abilities with therapy. Innocent, Olivier’s dad, learned about a UNICEF supported school called G.S. Ruhango Catholique. This school was equipped with ramps, wider door frames, and hallways. The school integrated all children with varied abilities and engaged children in a “student-centered approach to learning where children learn through hands-on activities and group work, and through self-discovery. This way of teaching empowers children like Olivier to learn from and with other children, as well as their teachers” (p.1).
The school also engaged and empowered parents by conducting workshops that helped them created learning activities and learning aids for families to use at home making the home to school connections. After a year in this school where Olivier received therapy and a warm inclusive learning environment, he has flourished. Olivier has been able to learn how to count to 1000, can hold a 5 liter can with his own hands, and most importantly learned the skills to connect with his friends through sports and other physical activities (Houser, 2018).
There are limited resources and knowledge about children with varied abilities in Rwanda and if the Unicef supported school had not been there for Olivier, he would have been disregarded, cast aside, bullied, and rendered unteachable. According to Ray, Pewitt-Kinder & George (2009) family engagement and frequent communication helps children with varied abilities be successful in their child’s development physically and emotionally. Working with parents and children who have varied abilities sends a message to the family and child that there is a community who cares and who is willing to partner to help their child succeed. When children and families are equitably nurtured and given resources to make their child’s learning and emotional well-being supported then they are successful and more willing to share their knowledge and experiences with the learning community. The stories from families with children who have varied abilities not only enhance our knowledge of people with varied abilities, but it also helps children and families feel empowered and unashamed. Without these kinds of schools in Rwanda, children with varied abilities would feel emotionally helpless, forgotten, and invisible. When children feel invisible they tend to develop low self-esteem.
I have learned that the problems children with varied abilities face around the world are far greater than in the United States. I was under the misconception that families and children with varied abilities had the same educational rights as children in the United States. There is still a lot of work to do when it comes to supporting children with varied abilities around the world. I hope that as schools like G.S. Ruhango Catholique continue to teach their communities, this is supported and passed along to other cities and regions in Africa.
Houser, V. 2018. How inclusive education works for children with disabilities
Ray, J. A., Pewitt-Kinder, J., & George, S. (2009). Partnering with families of children with special needs. YC: Young Children, 64(5), 16-22.