During a visit by our Director, Janet, to Kenya in 2017, our committee asked us to consider bringing more children with disabilities onto our programmes. Our Programme Manager, Bishop Liverson Mng’onda, is partially sighted and speaks passionately about his experience at a special school for the blind and how education transformed his life. Upon her return to the UK, Janet began discussions with ACACIA UK, a small charity which shares our passion for the transformative impact of education but has a particular focus on children living with developmental disabilities. We worked in partnership with ACACIA from 2018 to 2021 and have now moved to a full merger: that relationship has so far enabled us to bring over 40 children and young people living with disabilities onto our scholarship programme and forge partnerships with three organisations in Kenya who support children living with disabilities.
We believe that all children have the right to good quality inclusive education, as enshrined in international agreements and increasingly embedded in national legislation. However, evidence shows that children with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa are disproportionately likely to be either out of school or to receive a sub-standard education. The Global Education Monitoring Report 2020 found that:
When families are struggling to make ends meet and have to make the devastating choice of which of their children they put through school, they are much more likely to decide to leave children with disabilities at home as their earning potential in later life will probably be more limited than their able-bodied siblings. In some of the communities in which we work, disability carries a real stigma and children with disabilities are sometimes kept hidden away. There are also physical access issues – a child in a wheelchair may not be able to navigate the rough terrain to get to school or even be able to access the school itself – and families might also worry that schools will not be able to properly cater for the needs of their child.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognises that certain groups of children with disabilities are disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to education. These groups include girls, children with more complex support needs, children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and children living in remote rural areas. Most of these additional factors apply to the children with disabilities we support through our scholarship programme.
We currently have at least 40 children and young people living with disabilities on our scholarship programme and are planning to increase this number over time. Many of the secondary school children with disabilities we support are studying in schools which can cater for their specific needs, e.g. schools for the blind, or are in mainstream schools with a special needs unit. Once each scholar has completed secondary school, our consultant in Kenya, Daina, recommends the best next step for them in education, in consultation with their families. Some scholars have gone on to vocational college to gain practical skills, such as carpentry, catering or beauty therapy, which will enable them to start their own businesses in future, others have progressed to university.
Through our partners in Kenya – Autism Society of Kenya (ASK), Dadashi Children’s Centre and AIC Kajiado – we implement a range of projects that aim to remove the barriers to children with disabilities accessing education. For example, we are currently supporting ASK to provide training to parents of children with autism to administer therapy to their own children which in turn makes them more able to concentrate well in school, improving their educational outcomes. We are starting to see some of our scholars with disabilities also benefiting from projects implemented through our partners, bringing about a more holistic approach to our programmes.