Our team met 13-year-old Jenneh in Sierra Leone: she was bubbly and cheeky, and the headmaster of her school glowed with pride about her progress.
Jenneh is blind, but school has still made a huge difference in her life. She’s been taught how to type and read Braille, and she has lots of friends – “they love me and I love them” – she’s even able to navigate her way around independently.
Her favourite class, or as she sweetly calls it “my lovely subject”, is social studies, and she confidently participates in the classroom. “I’m doing well in school,” she says. “When the teacher asks questions, I’ll stand up, I’ll answer. The teachers love me so much for that, because I’m well capable in class.”
Jenneh is more than capable – she consistently gets top marks, and her teacher says some of the other students copy from her! In the future Jenneh wants to be a teacher, and we have no doubt she’ll be a brilliant one.
By contrast, meeting 15-year-old Nabirye in Uganda was disheartening. Where Jenneh has had opportunity, Nabirye has only experienced exclusion.
When she lost her sight aged nine, following an infection, she had to drop out of school immediately as they didn’t have the equipment or teachers to support students with disabilities. “It was the only school I could afford. My parents had no money to take me to other schools, because they were using all the money to take me to the hospitals.”
Since then, her life has been very different: “I felt so bad leaving school. Now I don’t do anything, I just stay at home. When I was at school I liked science and English, I wanted to be a lawyer, but I have been a long time out of school now so I don’t think I can anymore.”