Five years on: photo of school children under a huge tree in Malawi

Changing lives in Malawi: an astonishing five years

In 2010 the rural community of Emoneni was approached by Signal’s local partners to become part of a pilot programme in the Northern Region of Malawi.

In partnership with Sense Scotland and with funding from the Scottish Government, this programme aimed to tackle the discrimination faced by deaf and hearing impaired children trying to go to school. These are children often hidden away by families who fear they are cursed and unable to learn.

This programme worked directly with these children, their family members, respected community leaders and teachers. We worked to challenge negative attitudes towards disability and to support schools in the region to embrace learners with special needs.

Five years on: photo of school children at play outside in Northern MalawiParents were encouraged to join together to support each other and their children. Small start-up grants were offered for them to develop income generating activities. These varied according to the group, but included fish farming, village savings and lending, and selling vegetables and crafts. Comic Relief then became a second donor to support our work.

Five years on, we report on one of these parent support groups – the group in Emoneni.

This group is thriving, with 42 active members who say they see a worthwhile future and want to continue. They grow and sell groundnuts and soya and offer small loans to villagers. These loans are repayable at the end of each month and to date there has not been one defaulter. A record many banks would envy!

With the money raised from these activities, the parents provide soap, pens, books and school uniforms for their deaf and hearing impaired children. So far, 41 learners from ten primary schools in and around the community have benefited from this one group, which also pays school fees for the few exceptional students who have managed to attend secondary school.

But more than the financial gains, it is the change in attitudes which is so striking. One parent admitted that before the programme reached the community, she thought that anyone with a disability was a “nobody.” Another acknowledged that previously she was too shy to admit that she had a deaf child.

Five years on: school children sheltering under a tree in Northern MalawiTeachers spoke of their lack of confidence that these deaf children could learn. Following training through the programme, this has changed. Teachers, pupils and families now meet together and have good relationships. Pupils are improving academically and an astonishing six hearing impaired learners are now at secondary school – in a country where the majority of children don’t even finish primary school.

In addition, the parents go out into their community, encouraging other parents to send all their children to school. They also support other communities and collected bags of maize and distributed them to a residential school for the deaf to show support for other parents of children with special needs.

Here’s to the next five years!

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