Signal’s International Programmes Manager, Karen Goodman-Jones, reports on her recent visit to our deaf awareness programme in Northern Malawi backed by the Scottish Government…
I am very fortunate to be able to observe the real impact of this programme on the ground, and I never return to the UK without a sense of being humbled by the commitment and enthusiasm of our local partner, the CCAP special educational needs team, and the communities with which they work.
This visit was no exception – with a tuck shop and exceptional community spirit providing some of the highlights!
Travelling with Andy Kerr, CEO of our long-term programme partner Sense Scotland, I revisited one community we first met two years ago to see the change that has happened. We also visited areas new to us – and both have provided inspiring examples of what can and has been achieved.
Our programme works with deaf and hearing impaired children, their families, schools and communities to challenge negative attitudes towards deafness and disability. We are working to help all children, regardless of any special needs, to enjoy the same chances to go to school and receive an education.
In Ruviri District, we saw the exciting results of our parent support group initiative. This provides a network of support for parents and enables them to share successes and challenges related to raising children with special needs. The groups comprise parents of deaf children identified and supported by our programme and they are based around the children’s schools.
Following training in group leadership and business skills and the award of small, one-off start-up grants equivalent to around £100, the groups have established their own income generating activities. With the money raised, the parents can provide materials to support their children’s education.
Food and shelter for inclusive learning
Parents in the Kaulusi community started off with a small tuck shop selling pens, notebooks, homemade snacks and mobile phone credit, bringing these supplies closer to the isolated rural communities around them. I knew of this tuck shop from reports, but it is not until you are on the ground that you fully appreciate the distances involved in reaching rural areas, and I was in a car!
With the first money raised from the tuck shop last year, the parents established a school vegetable garden and planted a maize and soya crop. Further profits funded fertiliser, increasing the yield of these precious staple foods.
Even with a year of widespread flooding and then drought in Malawi, this community now has supplies to be able to feed the children during the upcoming “lean months” of October to March. This is when new crops are being planted and families rely on food stocks accumulated during the growing season.
After receiving training on issues around deafness, the community members also came together to donate land, time, labour and an astonishing amount of money to construct a new classroom block at the local school to support all learners.
Like many primary schools, Kaulusi is overcrowded and many children are forced to have lessons outside under trees, when the weather allows. Thanks to this community spirit, all the pupils will now be able to learn inside. The walls are now complete and the community is fundraising to complete the roof ahead of the rainy season.
The parents continue to champion their children’s right to a good education, regardless of special needs, and regularly fundraise to provide essential extras like school uniforms, notebooks and pencils. In a country where primary education is free, it is often these extra costs which can stop a child from going to school.
But not in this area! The fundraising has been a huge success with the sale of homemade snacks including crisps, meatballs, sweets and, from my own recommendation, roasted soya tea! The parents’ enthusiasm was infectious and I think I have brought home a few new ideas from them.
Thanks to the Scottish Government for supporting our work, making these changes possible and giving deaf and hearing impaired children an equal chance for an education. Thanks, too, to all the communities which have wholeheartedly embraced the programme and are now local advocates for their children’s schooling.