Sightsavers from the field

Education, not discrimination: Malawi’s inclusive pre-schools

An inclusive education project in Malawi is challenging stigma and changing lives by enabling young children with disabilities to attend pre-school alongside their peers.

September 2021
A group of young children playing on a climbing frame outside a school

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.

Gladys reading out loud to her classmates at school

About International Literacy Day

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.

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How the project is making a difference

A man pushing an adapted bicycle with a child sitting on a seat at the back

Providing transport

Many disabled children are unable to go to school because of the lack of accessible transport, with some parents having to carry their child long distances. Sightsavers has provided adapted bikes and wheelchairs so more children can get to school.

Young children sitting in a circle outside being taught vowels by their caregiver

Growing food

To increase the project’s sustainability, community gardens have been set up alongside the childcare centres. Both children and community members have learned about farming, and the gardens provide children with a nutritious porridge breakfast.

Girl pointing to the letter U at an outdoor school with other children

Changing attitudes

The project has brought children, parents, leaders and caregivers together to combat negative attitudes around disability. More children with disabilities are now attending pre-school, rather than staying at home while their parents work.

Young children sit together outside eating porridge
Children who attend the centres receive porridge made from soya and maize grown in the community gardens.

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.”

An eye health worker wearing a purple t-shirt with the People's Postcode Lottery and Sightsavers logos, standing next to a van with the Sightsavers logo on the door.

About People’s Postcode Lottery

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

Shelista’s story

Seven-year-old Shelista, pictured on the swing with her friend Prisca, is deaf. Before attending the James centre she was very unhappy: she would often cry and would even throw stones at other children. But with the support of caregivers like Nolah, Shelista has settled in at the centre and her mother, Rose, has seen a transformation. “When she wakes up now, she’s sweeping the yard, drawing water, cleaning utensils, cooking, and she’s no longer crying,” she says. “This project has really helped.” After school, Rose encourages Shelista to socialise with other children by inviting them to play at the family’s house. She wants all children with disabilities to be visible in the community and receive an education. Rose hopes Shelista will continue her learning and move on to primary school.

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 holds her son Wonderful as they stand outside smiling
Caregiver Catherine Hawuya with her son Wonderful, who also attends the Matchereza centre.

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.

Chikumbutso Diverson escorting his son, Enock, to school in an adapted wheelchair.

“Parents of children with disabilities are taking a leading role in making sure they support their children’s education.”

Chikumbutso Diverson escorting his son, Enock, to school in an adapted wheelchair.
Betty Moses, technical adviser for Sightsavers Malawi

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