‘Nothing for us without us’ stakeholders push for inclusive education

When Malawi signed the African Disability Protocol in 2022, hopes were high that this was one vehicle toward ensuring equal enjoyment of human rights by persons with various forms of disabilities.

In his desire towards this aspiration here is what Malawi leader Lazarus Chakwera committed.

“We have many parts of our social experience that are not inclusive towards persons with disabilities. The Malawi 2063 Vision states that our current aspiration, preoccupation on efforts as a nation is to create a new Malawi that is inclusively wealthy, and being true to that means being intentional in the inclusion of persons with disability,” said Chakwera.

Chakwera pledged commitment by his government.

However, an umbrella body of persons with disabilities – Fedoma is skeptical as Symon Munde its’ executive director thinks commitments like these are more on paper than in practice.

Evidence, he says is fewer efforts are being invested toward achieving inclusion in early childhood development and education.

“We still have been having challenges in terms of access to early childhood development and educational services, because the sub-sector is not well developed. So even consideration of children with a disability has been a challenge. As of now in most of the areas, most of the caregivers have been oriented on children with disabilities, and the centers are not accessible to the children.” explained Munde.

Echoing Munde is Machipitsa Lameck – operations manager for One Step Foundation … he blames resource constraints as a barrier to the inclusive early childhood development agenda.

“From the experiences that are on the ground there is little that the government is doing for children living with disabilities when it comes to education because I discovered that most of the educational institutions do not have enough specialist teachers,” says Lameck.

On the other hand, child rights campaigner Desmond Mhango faults the Ministry of Social Welfare for the dismal presence of inclusive early childhood education policies.

“In terms of policy, we see this policy, the educational policy on special needs sitting with the ministry of education- but then we don’t see a similar policy at the level of the ministry of gender which is responsible directly for the management of early childhood development centers. So a little bit of discrepancy there, because it is the ministry of gender which is responsible for every other person including children with disability.” Mhango said.

Cementing these observations is 30-year-old Elizabeth Medson, from Chomba Village in Mangochi District whilst she shares her traumatic experiences.

Telling her tale Medson a mother of four narrates her decision on withdrawing her seven-year-old child from a daycare center upon being diagnosed with brain malformation.

“My child is seven years old, he was diagnosed with brain malformation when he was just 8 months old. The condition made him require special care and attention. As a mother I was worried for his future, As any child, I wanted him to acquire early childhood education, but the challenge was that the Early Childhood Development centers could not afford to care for my child. However, for his health to improve, I started taking him to physiotherapy, and I was following the advice the doctors were giving me.” explained Medson.

So what interventions are stakeholders putting in place to correct the situation a question Munde says Fedoma is introducing inclusive ECD centers in some districts.

“As FEDOMA we have been taking this kind of intervention in Mangochi and Mulanje district and we are setting quite a good example of what an inclusive ECD center would look like, in terms of the orientation of the caregivers. I think it’s one of the areas that need a lot of attention so that parents with children with special needs can bring the children to the centers,” said Munde.

Munde: We are making positives but need to do more.

To interventions like these, Medson is pleased saying they hold key inclusivity of children needing special attention.

“After the introduction of an inclusive early childhood development center in our area, I enrolled my child. I was happy because many things improved in his life. And in terms of his education what I can say is that he was now able to remember the names of the person’s body parts, like head, and nose, so when the teacher tells him to touch a certain part he would remember what the teachers are talking about.” said Medson.

Echoing Medson, Lameck feels these inclusive ECD centers have the potential to boost self-esteem levels for children with disabilities.

“Every child has a right to education. So if we say we are segregating them, we are not giving them their right to education. It is very important to consider children with early childhood education because it is with that background where they also interact with their friends.” said Lameck.

This story isn’t just about parents or advocates because caregivers too are concerned about capacity deficiencies hearing from Florence Taimu a caregiver with Dream Community Based Child Development Center in Mangochi district.

“What I would have loved is that government should intervene and ensure that these centers have necessary teaching and learning materials suitable for children with disability. Government should also consider offering caregivers frequent training on how to care for children with a disability because to say the truth as caregivers, we are doing tremendous work. Explained Taimu.

And so, Albert Mwase district coordinator for Fedoma in Mangochi agrees … saying resource constraints have become a barrier to implementing inclusiveness in childcare centers.

“Caregivers need frequent training on how to care for children with disabilities. But we lack resources like drawings- something that can attract the children, some materials that the children can use when playing,” complained Mwase.

Because challenges are meant to be resolved the Department of Early Childhood Development at CCAP synod of Livingstonia has a suggestion.

Reverend Edward Kamthuzi its’ executive director thinks additional funding towards early childhood development and education services would address the many bottlenecks currently being faced.

“The country has to look at greater investment into early childhood development programs. Meanwhile, the ministry of gender, community development, and social welfare is receiving a small budget, in which case, that compromises the standards of early childhood development services in the country,” said Kamthunzi.

Now all sides heard from what do policyholders make of it all … a question to the ministry of social welfare whose spokesperson is Fred Simwaka.

Whilst admitting to capacity deficiencies; Simwaka; however, says authorities are doing all they must to ensure children with disabilities are reaching out to with this service.

“Our caregivers are given special skills to detect any malfunction that could be found in a child. So when our caregivers see that this child has a disability, that child is referred to centers that can have children with special needs,” said Simwaka.

Not surprising that in pursuit of an all-inclusive society Malawi leader Chakwera recently directed among others a review of the Disability Act of 2012 to strengthen the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.

“The inclusion of persons with disabilities must be part of our quest to make different types of wealth that Malawi has more inclusive. For this reason, I am issuing the following directives in my capacity as president; I direct the ministry of transport and public works to ensure that the National Construction Industry Council reviews the processes of awarding contracts so that contractors satisfy the accessibility requirements in conformity with the Malawi accessibility standards.

I direct the ministry of justice to review the disability Act 2012 and identify gaps that must be closed to the law stronger for the protection of persons with disabilities,” stressed Chakwera.

These interventions notwithstanding, a child development analyst, Lucky Mbewe thinks Malawi can do better if it re-directs its energy towards developing children with disabilities.

Mbewe: Our country stands to benefit.

The status quo; he says, is robbing the country of an opportunity for a future of productive children with disabilities.

“The government hasn’t done much in terms of programming for these children in terms of their growth and development. Actually, as a country, we have focused much on those that have grown up. And obviously, if this continues then we have completely lost out on the opportunity to shape the future of children, especially at the early childhood development level. We need to do better, otherwise, we will have a very gloomy future concerning children with disabilities.” explained Mbewe.

One reason why countries have laws, policies, guidelines, and strategies is for such tools to provide guidance … unfortunately in spite of them all … for Malawi; progress has remained slow and persons with disabilities continue to wait on a day the gods shall smile on them.

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