World Vision Australia Blog Ambassador Eden Riley speaks with the Headmaster and class teacher, alongside two of the disabled pupils (including Iraril on the right) who are learning Braille at School in Nkozi, Uganda. Photo by Suzy Sainovski.
I loved school as a child. I loved everything about it; the teachers, the books, my classmates…not so much Math, but the teachers were able to bring out the best in my ability to learn even the subject I didn’t like. It helped me achieve the education I have today and my utter adoration for books as an adult.
Last year I sat in a classroom filled with students and it took me back to those days. Their smiles beamed as they showed off what they had studied and reminded me of my own enthusiasm for learning. But I wasn’t visiting my old school, I was in Uganda visiting an education project funded by World Vision Australia. What was even more special about this school was their aim to include children with disability in the lessons.
Let’s face it, it’s tough enough getting an education in some parts of the world without worrying about how to get an education if you have a disability.
The children in this room faced quite unthinkable challenges to those I had faced as a child. To get to school, my mum dropped me off in the car to make sure I got there safely. These children walked for miles. I had clean water so I didn’t get sick very often, and when I did it was generally just a cold.
These children faced diseases such as cholera from dirty water, and malaria from the mosquitoes who breed in it. These were the ‘lucky’ students. About 10 of the students in the class had some form of disability; some were blind, and some were deaf. The head teacher and class mistress happily explained they believed strongly that educating these children was just as important as educating all the other children in the community – a belief not necessarily shared, or at least enabled, widely in other communities – so they had set about creating a school environment conducive to their learning.
With the help of World Vision Australia, the room was kitted out in bench style desks like we had seen in other classrooms we visited on the trip, but on some of the desks there were Braille machines, and on others drawings depicting the alphabet used in sign language. The class mistress explained that not only was it important to educate those children who had disabilities, but their classmates also so that they were able to communicate with all the children in the class. As a regular activity, she taught the class how to sign and it was really wonderful to see how the deaf children felt so included in the class activity. She took a lot of time to correct the signing of all the students before moving on to the next lesson.
She also taught Braille. The machines and regular instalments of paper to feed them were supplied by World Vision and she had two students who gave us a demonstration both of the machine and the Braille template which required a stylus to indent paper by hand.
We met Iraril who was clearly much older than the other students and asked about his story. As a young child he had been kept at home because he was blind and received no education. When his grandfather found out about this he brought him to the school to learn. A very quietly spoken boy, he told us shyly but excitedly that he never thought he would get to go to school because he couldn’t see, but now that he is getting an education, he wants to be a priest when he finishes studying. The headmaster told us that he had even had handrails installed over the pit latrines so that the disabled children wouldn’t get injured when they would use the toilets. This is the first time that I’d seen what was essentially a disabled toilet in Uganda.
It was inspiring and heart-warming to see how included these children were in the studies by both the school staff, but especially by their classmates. It’s clear that they will be given every opportunity possible to be part of the community and drive change when they are older, but not everyone gets that chance.
I’m thankful to have witnessed this initiative which is so life changing and empowering to those who are able to attend this school, and proud to have seen World Vision’s part in helping make these changes.