In Malawi, a Sightsavers programme is enabling younger children with disabilities to attend pre-school, changing attitudes about disability across the community.
Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Sightsavers and its partners are working with more than 40 community childcare centres in Malawi to provide inclusive early childhood education. As part of the three-year project, which began in April 2020, young children with disabilities are being supported to attend pre-school where they can learn, play and develop alongside their peers.
Volunteer caregivers at the centres have been trained so that they can adapt their teaching and play styles to support children with different needs. Alongside basic literacy and numeracy, children also learn about their rights and prepare for the transition to primary school.
Nolah Chakoma, a caregiver at the James centre in Ntcheu, explains the importance of children learning together. “This inclusive education will enable children to become familiar with each other and accept one another in later stages of life without discrimination,” she explains.
Held each year on 8 September, the event was founded in 1967 to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights.Read more: Unesco.org
Why is this work so vital? Before the global pandemic, the UN estimated that about 200 million children and young people were out of school – more than half of these in sub-Saharan Africa. What’s more, in many lower-income countries, children with disabilities were far less likely to reach minimum skill levels in reading than those without disabilities.
Children who miss out on their right to an education have more limited life opportunities, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and dependence – and children with disabilities are particularly disadvantaged. Thanks to People’s Postcode Lottery players, children who attend our centres in Malawi are more likely to progress on to primary and secondary education.
Betty Moses, technical advisor for Sightsavers Malawi, says: “We’ve seen a high number of children with disabilities registering at the childcare centres, which was not the case before the project. We’ve also seen communities working together to support the families and the centres that are enrolling children with disabilities.
“Parents of children with disabilities are taking a leading role in making sure they support their children’s education. Some parents travel long distances to ferry their children to the community centres – before the project, this was not the case.”
This project is funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, a subscription lottery that raises money for good causes in Great Britain and around the world.Sightsavers and PPL
Ben Chikaipa, project coordinator at Sightsavers Malawi, explains that the children’s centres have become self-reliant by producing their own food. “Previously, most centres were relying on contributions from their community members, and they were having food shortages. But this time we’ve helped the centres to grow their own maize and provide food for the children.
“The spirit of working as a team has been brought into action because the community members were able to do the farming together. What they’ve learned from the training, they’re also able to replicate in their own gardens.”
Catherine Hawuya, a caregiver at the Matchereza centre, has personal experience of disability and discrimination: “I’ve faced lots challenges in this area of Matchereza because of my disability,” she explains. “There were a lot of people who used to laugh at me.
“When this programme came here and included me as a caregiver, it motivated me. It has made many parents send their children to the centre, so we have a lot of disabled children because I’m a caregiver who’s disabled.”
Sightsavers partners involved with this project include the Catholic Health Commission (Malawi), the Ministry of Gender Children Disability and Social Welfare (Ntcheu), and the Parents of Disabled Children Association in Malawi. The project is funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
In Singida, an inclusive eye health programme has made eye care services more affordable, sustainable and equitable. Here, four people involved with the project share their stories.
In Nigeria and Kenya, two innovative education projects are enabling children with disabilities to reach their potential.
Since 2012, Sightsavers has been using smartphones to collect high-quality data, so that countries can effectively map the disease and focus their elimination efforts.