Photo: A poetry performance in sign language at Kapoche School celebrations
When Sally Angelson recently returned to Kapoche School in Luangwa, Zambia, she had the honour of giving out 100 bikes to girls in the primary section, and the celebrations included performances from a group who did poetry using sign language.
It was in stark contrast to Sally’s visit five years ago, when the school struggled to cater to children with special needs and many children had no choice but to stay home. Change was at hand, however, with construction beginning on a Special Education Needs unit.
Photo: Construction of a special needs dormitory in 2011.
It was a momentous occasion because in developing nations there are few facilities for children living with disabilities. At that time, in the whole of Zambia there had been only one school for children with special needs - for the blind and deaf. In Luangwa district, there were no facilities at all and children were hidden away.
Back then 10-year-old Nailah, who was deaf and had no way to communicate, had attended Kapoche School for three months. In that time her parents had noticed a real change in her – she had started to write and communicate with them. They knew that if Nailah had special attention and resources, she could achieve more. Her parents and others began to lobby to give their children the opportunity of an education.
ChildFund and New Zealanders heard their heartfelt pleas and funds were used to build accessible classrooms and dormitories for children living with disabilities. Teachers were given special needs training.
The project was about more than building a school – it was also about changing a community mind set and bringing children living with disabilities out of the shadows to enjoy the benefits of an education, and a life. Fast forward to the present day and Sally was witnessing how far the community had come when she watched the children signing poetry.
“Not only could they sign so well, they had won a national championship and their inclusion in the celebrations was just like all the other students! It was a moment that brought tears to my eyes, and I will never forget.”
Their achievements are possible in large part to the dedication of teachers and parents who want the very best for all their children. People that Sally calls ‘unsung heroes.’
“There were a group of mothers I met at the special education needs school, who do shifts staying in the dormitories from 6am to 6pm, or 6pm to 6am most days a week. They are needed to care for the many children living there with a whole range of physical and mental needs. This is exceptionally hard work, and they do it for free (as their children are there) but they also have other children and chores at home to fit in.”
Photo: Sally with two dedicated special needs teachers at Kapoche.
Thanks to the hard work of parents and teachers at Kapoche School and the support of New Zealanders, children who were once hidden away now have the opportunity to express their thoughts and their feelings, and are an integral part of the community.
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