ALOTAU, Papua New Guinea, July 2017 — Ten-year-old Michael Aisi is a little older than his Elementary Preparatory classmates whose ages range from 6 -7 years but that’s because a regular school refused to enroll him when they discovered Michael had speech and hearing impediments.
“Some years ago, I tried to enroll my son in a nearby school but they rejected him. They said they couldn’t accept him because of his speech and hearing impairments, so I kept him at home for some years. He could have been in grade 4 by now if he was allowed to enroll then,” Michael’s mother, Rachael Bosei, who was devastated by the school’s decision at the time, explains.
Rachael is now a proud mother with a big smile because her son attends class every day in a regular school at Salima Elementary School in the Sagarai area of Alotau, Milne Bay Province. Thanks to the intervention by Cheshire DisAbility Services — a non-governmental service provider for Persons living with Disabilities — through its Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) worker, Tracey Mwadayana.
Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR)
Tracey, who had been trained by Cheshire DisAbility Services on CBR work and with the support of UNICEF on basic inclusive childhood education, discovered Michael through a data survey exercise she carried out in Sagarai in January 2016.
“I am also a village recorder/data collector for my Ward which includes two rural villages of Ho-owalai and Ipouli with a population of 1,444 people so it is easy for me to identify and locate people living with disabilities in my community. I look after four wards in my zone and the furthest I go to reach children with disabilities is a six-hour walk in some hard-to-reach areas. Since starting my CBR work in 2015, I’ve found out that there are many people and children living with disabilities in my zone who are desperate for services but cannot access them,” says Tracey.
“My CBR work includes screening, assessing and collecting data on people living with disabilities, door to door visits to provide basic stimulation exercises and counselling, providing referrals for people with disabilities who have chronic illnesses to nearby health facilities or the main hospital in town and providing support for children with disabilities to access services,” she adds.
When Tracey discovered Michael, who lives with his mother and two other siblings in Gadoalai Village about an hour’s walk away from Salima Elementary School, she invited him to her home where she worked with him for several months to prepare him for regular school by letting him engage in play with her three children, providing basic stimulation exercises and encouraging him to learn the alphabet. Tracey also trains Michael’s mother on how to use readily available material to stimulate Michael through play.
Dedication with perseverance
Their perseverance paid off and in early 2017, Tracey and Rachael witnessed Michael’s enrollment at Salima Elementary School. His teacher, Gabriella Wawaulo, willingly accepted him into her class. Gabriella had also received training in Inclusive Early Childhood Education and was determined to teach Michael using action language.
“As a teacher, it is my responsibility to make sure he gets an education because he has every right to learn. Michael is very interested in school. He never misses a day of school. We can see that he is learning and that gives me confidence to continue teaching him. He is the first child with a disability to be enrolled here and he has taught me to be patient,” Gabriella says.
For Michael’s mother, her son’s enrolment has ignited hope in that he will receive the education he rightfully deserves. Her despair from the time it became obvious that something was amiss developmentally with Michael since the age of one, is now being replaced with joy as she looks forward to her son’s return from school every day. Rachael believes Michael’s disabilities are a result of a serious bout of malaria she suffered from while pregnant with him.
Rachael uses a rudimentary sign language to communicate with Michael which is challenging at times but is hopeful that she will get the opportunity to learn sign language so she can communicate effectively with her son.
UNICEF supported the establishment of Inclusive Early Childhood Education Centers with the capacity to provide services to around 500 children. These centers were established in partnership with Cheshire DisAbility Services. The new national Early Childhood Development (ECD) curriculum, elaborated with the support of UNICEF, includes issues related to the early identification of children with disabilities to be addressed in the ECD centres. These centres will facilitate the early detection of children with disabilities and help ensure children with disabilities have access to quality stimulation and learning. Teachers are trained to develop Individual Education Plans based on the different types of disabilities screened.
While Tracey is happy that Michael is getting an education, her work is not over. She gets emotional as she describes the plight of children living with disabilities in her Ward.
“Children with disabilities here have many issues. Some live too far away from aid posts and schools which are too far for them to walk to. Sometimes health workers over look their disabilities and don’t refer them to proper service providers. But even for them to get to the service providers is a challenge because transportation is an issue. My hope and dreams for these children is to bring services to them so they can move on. I am confident that there is a way out and I want them to reach the finishing line and that is for them to get somewhere, become someone and at least know how to look after themselves independently. That’s my hope and dream,” Tracey stresses.