Students at a school for children with disabilities perform a dance. Photo by Shirantha Perera, World Vision.
As an international development agency World Vision is called to work with the most vulnerable children and this takes our work to some of the poorest communities in the world. Life is really difficult for everyone in these communities, but especially for those with a disability.
I have ocular albinism which results in a myriad issues with my eyesight. It means I can’t do various everyday things like driving a car, reading train timetables in stations, watching TV and movies as well as reading overheads in class or meetings. But because I live in a country with such an abundance of opportunities I’ve been able to live a life where I am judged on my abilities, not my disability. What a privilege that is, and it only takes me a few seconds in the field for me to be reminded of that.
On a recent trip to Sri Lanka I visited a Disability Inclusion project that was part of Child Sponsorship programming. Situated in a tea estate, the project provided day care and education for the children of plantation workers.
Before the project, mothers or elder siblings had to stay at home to look after children with disabilities as they were unable to attend school. So for families who had a child with a disability it restricted access to education for them and potentially their siblings. It can also deprive a parent the opportunity to earn an income, which is vital to provide their family with the essentials like food, healthcare and security. What a profound impact on a family that is already vulnerable as a result of poverty.
Children attend the centre whilst their parents work and they follow three main paths depending on the severity of their disability. Some are able to be integrated into mainstream schooling, providing them the opportunity to interact with a broad range of students and access to the same education opportunities. Others participate in vocational training to help with future employment opportunities and integration into the community through their work. The very small number of children with extremely severe disabilities remain in the centre whilst their parents work and are cared for by staff and surrounded by other children.
I met a bunch of happy, outgoing and social kids who were delighted to host a group of visitors and show them around the centre, but on speaking to the staff this is a real change from when the centre opened. Because the kids were isolated at home (mother home to care for them instead of work) they had very limited opportunity to interact with other children.
Not only do disability inclusion projects such as this increase educational and work opportunities for families impacted by disability, but it also enables kids with disabilities to have a childhood, the opportunity to play, learn, interact with other children and contribute to their community.
Sponsoring a child with a disability is a great way to help communities address the stigma of disability and also show a child that they are important, valued and cared for.
Disability inclusion in schools is such a normal part of life in Australia. But in disadvantaged communities, like the one I visited in Sri Lanka, this is only made possible through programs like Child Sponsorship and because of the amazing Australians who support it.