Schools closed in Rwanda immediately after confirming the first case of COVID-19 and they stayed shut for ten months. But from 18th January, we were finally able to reopen schools to all children.
Before COVID-19, we were supporting children and their families in Rwanda with inclusive services. We work to increase access to education for children with disabilities, and support families of children with disabilities in caring for their children. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our team has been working tirelessly alongside the most vulnerable families and children, who have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown. We kept in touch with families by telephone, to provide advice and support, but this is no substitute to the support parents and children could get in person pre-pandemic.
Children with disabilities are falling behind their peers
Before lockdown, my two children with disabilities were very happy to attend school every day. It is now ten months since my children stopped going due to the restrictions in place. This has affected them because we leave them at home alone without anyone to support and they have ended up forgetting even the little things they had learned before the pandemic. Not only forgetting lessons, but even their levels of impairments were worsened because of lack of inclusive services they used to receive at school”.One mother told us
When schools reopened, we were able to go back to supporting children with disabilities and providing psychosocial support to parents. But when I spoke to local service providers, it became clear that young children with disabilities are in an even worse position than before the pandemic.
Families in rural communities have been hit hard by the financial impacts of the pandemic.
In lockdown, children with special needs or disabilities were unable to follow online teachings done in Rwanda because they didn’t have the technology to do so. Now, their progress is seriously lagging behind their peers. But to make it even worse, measures inside the classroom are continuing to disadvantage these children. For example, social distancing in and out of class affect their learning as they need a close connection with their colleagues and teachers. Learning through playing and sharing is no longer happening and most of them lost a sense of belonging and their feelings of self-worth. Children with hearing loss who need to lip read are struggling to follow what’s going on as because the facemasks teachers and caregivers have don’t allow for this.
Many teachers need refresher training to continue supporting children with disabilities. So far, they have been unable to access the support and materials needed to help them adapt learning materials and pick-up new ways of teaching and interacting with children.
Our children with disabilities have experienced increased violence, mental and emotional stress during the period of school closure at home. Some of them were exposed to physical, sexual and or emotional violence. They have lost a lot of the progress they made before the pandemic.”One schoolteacher explained
Parents of children with disabilities are experiencing higher rates of stress, depression and anxiety which go hand in hand with extreme poverty. We’ve seen a return of high levels of stigma towards children with disabilities and their families, which is affecting school attendance. Children are being locked inside while parents are away working for money to feed the family, and their children are considered a burden.
The pandemic has plunged already-struggling families into extreme poverty. Parents are struggling to find food and they are burdened by costs associated with trying to continue educating their children as school reopened. As a result of this family poverty, some primary school aged children with disabilities are simply not attending school. Instead, they are working on construction sites and in factories, mining, begging on streets, family fields, and selling things in markets.
We are pushing harder for inclusivity in schools
We are working with families, schools and communities to listen and respond to the new needs of children with disabilities. It’s vital that we maintain safe access to education and support services, while continuing to reduce social stigma. So we’re providing online special needs and inclusion training to teachers and caregivers to help them support students in schools.
Our field team are supporting parents in getting their children to school. And we’re continuing to run Parent Support Groups, which promote group savings to increase families’ income which they can use to respond to their children’s needs. We are encouraging children at home and at school for them to improve their self-esteem and self-acceptance, and working to minimise entry barriers into schools such as entry fees.
Your donations give hope to the most vulnerable children. £17 could help to reach out to children with disabilities who are missing out on vital education.
Inclusion Trainer – Rwanda