Sightsavers Reports

“My message to other children with disabilities? My friends, tell them to learn”

5-year-old Jenneh from Sierra Leone, who is blind, stands outside her school building wearing her blue school uniform.

Jenneh is 15. She’s confident and bubbly, doing well in school, and her teachers have high hopes for her future.

Big deal, you’re thinking. That description could be applied to any number of 15-year-olds worldwide. But for a blind teenage girl living in Sierra Leone – where disability is often seen as a curse, and some people with disabilities are abandoned by their own families – just being able to attend school is a huge achievement.

And Jenneh’s not just attending, she’s excelling.

Jenneh sits at a desk with her classmates and teacher in 2014.
Jenneh at school in 2014.

The difference school has made

We first met Jenneh two years ago. Going to school had made a huge impact on her life: she’d learned to read and write in braille and was keen to train as a teacher in the future. It was amazing to see the difference going to school had made for her. Many children with disabilities in Sierra Leone are considered not capable of learning and are never given the chance to try.

In early 2016, we returned to Bo to catch up with Jenneh, whose goals for the future have only increased. She’s grown in confidence and is an ambitious student. She still wants to be a teacher, because she’s passionate about education, but she also wants to travel, and study overseas.

Jenneh is doing well in all her subjects. Her teachers told us that she raises the standards of the whole class. But there are still challenges in her way. She’s keen to progress with mathematics, but is limited by the lack of assistive technology, which is frustrating for her.

Jenne stands outside her school in Bo, Sierra Leone, with her classmates in the background.

“When I leave school I want to be a teacher”

Maths is a subject that few students with disabilities are able to participate in, partly because translating equations into accessible formats isn’t straightforward and the costs involved can be higher. But Jenneh is focusing on her other subjects and, having attended inclusive schools supported by Sightsavers, is now preparing to start at a mainstream high school for the next phase of her education.

“I’m learning social studies, English, economics, science and cultural studies. I use a tape recorder, [so I can] listen back to class, and I use a typewriter for exams.

“When I leave school I want to be a teacher – teaching is very important, because it makes you know more about your community. I want to teach social studies and home economics. I’ll need to go to university; I’d like to do this in America.”

Jenneh's school: a small white hut with words painted on the outside, saying

“My friends, tell them to learn”

“Since 2007 I have lived at Paul School. When I finish at YWCA [where Jenneh currently studies] I’m going to go home, live with my mother and go to the Methodist School. Mum helps in terms of education, [and practical things like] washing, soap, materials. I’d prefer to live in Bo at Paul School, as I could get learning materials there – cassettes, a tape recorder. At home don’t get that opportunity, it’s too expensive.

“My message to other children with disabilities? My friends, tell them to learn.”

Countless young people with disabilities are missing out on education because of stigma, discrimination, and a lack of equipment and trained teachers. Join Sightsavers’ disability rights campaign and help us fight for all children with disabilities to have the same opportunities as Jenneh to participate in society. Sign up here!

Jenneh stands with a group of people outside her school.

“When you learn you are educated, and education is better than silver and gold. Education is the key to success.”

Jenneh stands with a group of people outside her school.

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