Chance for Childhood has been working in Rwanda since 2009 to support children with disabilities. Recognised by UNICEF and the Rwandan Government as the leading child-focused disability inclusion specialist, we work to ensure the inclusion of the most marginalised children through inclusive early childhood development, inclusive education, teacher training, parenting education and through collaboration and inputs at policy level.
- Population: 12.2 million, 40% of which are under 15.
- Human Development Index: 158 out of 188.
- 60% of the population lives on less than £1.50 a day.
- In mainstream schools there is an average of 1 teacher for 58 pupils.
Ensuring young children with disabilities have the best start in life
The first 1,000 days are the most important in a child’s life. What happens or does not happen at this stage affects one’s life, survival and productivity in adulthood. This is particularly critical for children with disabilities, who are often subject to stigma, abuse, exploitation and neglect, and are at high risk of being excluded from early care and education.
The 2014 census found 24,862 disabled children in preschool, primary and lower secondary schools. That’s just 0.85% of the total of children enrolled. There is therefore an urgent need to ensure that adequate provisions are made for all children to access quality early childhood development services, and in turn have the best start possible in life.
What we’re doing
In 2018, we launched ‘Strong Start’, our first Rwanda-based inclusive Early Childhood Development (ECD) pilot, in the Musanze District. ‘Strong Start’ is designed to increase access to pre-school education for children with disabilities. We are working closely with early childhood development centres to make them more accessible. During our pilot project, we trained 23 community health workers and staff from ECD centres in home-based inclusive ECD practices and early detection of children at risk of/with developmental delays or disabilities.
Our experience in Musanze led to a new, exciting partnership with UNICEF Rwanda to enhance ECD services in 22 out of 30 districts. Our early detection of development delays/disabilities toolkit for children 0-2 years has been validated by the Ministry of Health with the view of national rollout. This will ensure that ECD services are inclusive and that all children can access quality care and education. Read more in the article.
Quality education for deaf and hearing-impaired children
There are only seven schools for deaf children in the whole of Rwanda and a lack of training amongst mainstream school teachers means that deaf children are usually left out of school, excluded and invisible in their communities. Without understanding their children’s condition, families are unable to support their children and struggle to communicate with them.
Unable to communicate, deaf children are often trapped in a world of their own. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to adults who abuse or rape them knowing there’s no way the child can tell anyone.
What we’re doing
Using a community-led mapping approach, we have not only produced first- time data on the understanding and identification of disability at community level but also highlighted the gross unreliability of national disability statistics.
Our 2013-16 programme, Education, Equality and Empowerment (EEE), funded by Comic Relief, also piloted the first Learning Support Assistant initiative in Rwanda. The scheme provided classroom and home-based learning support to children with special learning needs. The pilot saw enormous success (overachieving our target to deliver meaningful education by 214%!) and has since been rolled out to our programmes in Kenya, Uganda and DRC.
We continue to work with Empowering Children with Disabilities, a local organisation running the Nyabihu School for Deaf Children. Together we enable children with hearing impairments to access specialized and mainstream education.
Set up in 2013, the school is the only one of its kind in the district. We work with 140 deaf children who are taught the national syllabus, along with Rwandan Sign Language and lip reading (in English and local Kinyarwanda) to help them communicate better. Children attend Primary 1 and 2 at the school and later are prepared to transition to mainstream schools to learn alongside peers without disabilities. Many children have to come from far away to receive an education, so the school provides boarding during the school terms.
Recognising the basic needs of children with severe and complex disabilities
Because of stigma and lack of education on disabilities, parents often don’t know how to communicate with their disabled child. Our survey showed that a majority of parents thought their children with disabilities could never learn, while others didn’t think they needed to learn as they would never be able to use their knowledge.
Children with severe and complex disabilities are most heavily marginalised. Their own family will hide them away for fear of discrimination or violence towards them. This further compounds their isolation and exclusion from society.
What we’re doing
Our ‘Communication Camps’ support and bring together the most vulnerable families who have trouble accepting their child’s disability due to deep-rooted traditional attitudes. During these residential workshops, parents of disabled children are taught basic skills such as feeding or physiotherapy exercises to make children more comfortable, playful activities to stimulate their intellectual development, as well as learning simple techniques to communicate with their child. Children with disabilities also receive assistive devices to increase their mobility, such as walking frames or crutches.
After the three-day camps, we encourage parents to set up Parent Support Groups. As of March 2019, we have 11 active groups which share experiences and generate income through pig farming and goat rearing.
- We’re working hand in hand with the Rwandan government to change the lives of children with disabilities.
- Our new Deaf School in Rwanda is now open!
- Chance for Childhood’s technical capacity statement – Inclusive Education (2019).
- Executive summary of the final external evaluation of our Education, Equality and Empowerment project (2017).
- Community mapping study of people with disabilities in Musanze, Gakenke, Nyabihu disctrics in Rwanda, summary report (2016).
- Education, Equality and Empowerment video in Rwanda (2015).