Rwanda’s national lockdown began in March, and saw schools closed for months. Although aimed at protecting lives, vulnerable families and children with disabilities were very badly affected. Restrictions were eased after 6 weeks, but schools remained closed and have only just started to reopen now. Many children are still out of school and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and the long-term consequences are being felt deeply.
Our initial response focused on distributing emergency food and health supplies to communities cut off by the lockdown.
The lockdown has severely affected casual workers and the most vulnerable families. Most families we work with already face difficulty making ends meet, as they often work informally. When the lockdown came in, they struggled to find work while having to look after their children who couldn’t go to school. Despite the Government, our work and other NGOs’ efforts to mitigate the effects on poor families, the brutal loss of jobs has played a catalytic role in harming the welfare of families of children with disabilities.
As schools shut, learning moved from classrooms to online. However, children with disabilities, especially those with learning and communication difficulties, are struggling to adapt. Children are forced to learn remotely from home and their lessons are delivered online, through radio or on television. They’re supervised by their parents, who are often illiterate or unable to support their child’s learning. For children with disabilities like visual impairment and communication difficulties, their education has stopped altogether. Never has the digital divide been so real and painful than today, particularly for children with disabilities.
Alongside the Government, civil society organisation and other NGOs, we’ve been supporting the long-term response to the impact of COVID-19. By strengthening remote learning systems and preparing schools to reopen your support has already started the long road to recovery for the most vulnerable communities. However, these efforts will need to be combined with deeper involvement at the community level to support the mental health of parents and children and prevent the already-challenging situation from becoming any worse. And now that schools are starting to reopen, we’re worried that many children are at risk of not going back. So, we’ve been getting out into the community to ensure no child is forgotten and every child can access education.
We’ve been increasing our efforts to reach out to parents and protect their mental health
We’ve started by adapting our existing programmes in Rwanda by building on our previous work with communities, promoting the inclusion of children with disabilities. By increasing our community engagement, we’re ensuring that families of children with disabilities are kept up to date with the latest government directives. We’ve supported children with learning difficulties with their home learning, worked with parents to keep their children healthy and safe and continued Parent Support Group meetings in a socially-distanced way to keep parents of children with disabilities sharing their experiences. However, we need to reach more children and quickly. Many haven’t had any formal education in nearly nine months, and we can’t let anymore time pass. They urgently need support to ensure they can still access a brighter future.
Your support over the last few months has meant so much to vulnerable families – food distributions and other support has meant they’ve been kept safe and healthy. But children’s futures are being put on hold – and we can’t let that continue. In December, you have an amazing opportunity to have your donation doubled! Between the 1st and 8th, every donation to our Big Give Christmas Challenge will go twice as far. Find out more.
Rwanda Country Representative