I am a big fan of quotes, as I am sure the thoughts or feelings I am having have been had before and that someone else has a much more eloquent way of capturing what is cursing through my brain.
“The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings” – Stephen King
Mr King perfectly captures the disturbance I have been feeling since going on the field visit, and why this blog has been a tough one to scratch out on paper. Words seem to belittle the experience and the lessons learnt.
The simple, but critical, deliverable of the Kafue Project is to target 12 schools in the Kafue district in Zambia and create access to education for 180 Children with Disabilities (CWD). The project itself has more than delivered on the numbers that it set out to, with currently over 240 children having access to education and the benefit of resources being provided.
Our field visit was to assess where each schools progress was at and what else the project could be doing. We also planned to meet with the Minister of Education to better understand the governments’ approach in the region and share the work of the project to date.
There were so many moments I had on these two days that are worth writing about, but I fear I can not steal that much of your time to tell you about them all. It is beyond confronting to see the sheer number of children with disabilities in the area.
There are 3 parts that truly jump out at me that I will share with you today….
The children missing out
Every single person we spoke to (head of the school/teacher/Member of the Ministry for Education) commented that they had more than one story of a child with a disability not receiving education or health assessments as they were just kept at home, often in isolation. Every single person we spoke to made this comment.
And I think a part of me broke inside. Here we were looking at schools with teachers that are trained, resources ready to go, child to child programs ready to assist in inclusive education. As I looked out the car window and saw the houses we drove past, the question thumped loudly in my head…are we driving past a life right now that we could be making a difference to?
In conversations with the crew from LCD, it was evident that one of the biggest challenges was the need for a shift in thinking towards the concept that a child with a disability should be seen as a person of value and worth the effort of being taken to school.
It seems there is a stigma or burden in having a child with a disability and the biggest hurdle is getting parents to bring their children from isolation, out of their home, and into a school with resources and support for development. The terminology used said a lot about the current state of awareness and understanding of inclusiveness; Dumb, Albino, Mute, Blind listed among the ailments.
I think of the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and aunts and uncles I know back home that have a loved one with a disability, and not for the first time I marvel at their absolute unwavering love and support they show a child with disability in their life. It makes you reflect on how far we have come as a society, and that what drove that was parents that fought for the best for their kids. They saw beyond a disability, they did not let their loved one be defined by a disability, maybe even when society hadn’t caught up.
The difference is being made…but is it enough?
At one of the government schools where there were significant resources, trained teachers and that general happy buzz of a primary school you love to see, we sat with the Principal talking about what needs to be done to support. She went on to tell us that one of the younger students in a wheelchair had almost badly injured themselves, wheeling up a ramp that had disintegrated and leaving a gap. This trapped the chair wheel and flipped the child. Luckily someone was there to stop it becoming an injury. The teachers then dedicated their weekend to come in and repair the ramp and re-concrete.
I think what really played over in my head was this again was one story, and as we ventured from school to school in the same district, I was struck with the high number of children with disabilities we were encountering.
Having flirted with the idea of becoming a teacher at university, before settling on pursuing nursing and owning businesses in hospitality, I completed my teaching rounds at a school in Spotswood Victoria. It had a great working relationship with a school nearby focused on the vision impaired, the student numbers with a disability were small. If memory serves me correctly there were only 6 children with a disability at the primary school. I was leaving schools that had 10-100 children with disabilities, in the same district. So this really wasn’t one story at all.
Yes, a ramp was helpful, but were the toilet block wide enough for the wheelchairs? No
Only one Braille set for a school…was that enough? No
Was the wheelchair really fit for purpose for the Kafue terrain for that child going to and from school? No
Was one poster for sign language enough for a school with 6 hearing impaired children of varying ages and different learning needs? No
The list of questions for ”was there enough resources?” and the answer being “No” was endless.
It was hard to balance my thoughts, this project had made amazing headway in a region so greatly needing it. It had exceeded its targets, but it was a small step forward, more needed to be done. What I was swiftly learning was that the challenge for an NGO is answering the question how are we going to resource taking this next step forward.
The difference can be made
I have heard and said the saying many times “When eating an elephant, you have to start somewhere and it is one bite at a time”, but never did it ring so true as I reflected on the field visit drive back to Lusaka.
There is so much to tackle, you don’t know where to start, or if you will make a difference. I will share with you that the hardest thing that I have encountered to date on this assignment and that is trying to compute this. Being a person who has befriended insomnia, at the best of times, I am used to little sleep. But I am used to these waking hours of early morning being a peaceful and restful time. In the nights since returning from the field visit I have become increasingly restless. Head swirling with how do I make enough of a difference and it be the right difference. And will it ever be enough??
And then you remember seeing the teachers who exemplify the very impact access to inclusive education can have. The community school that has a non-verbal teacher, this is a massive leap forward in show casing the value a person can have regardless of their disability.
You hear the story about the student who has just graduated with a diploma from one of the schools and see the pride the teachers that helped guide her on her way have.
Reflecting on these examples helps you focus on the point that making a difference one little piece at a time, makes an enormous difference to the person whose life it changed.
As I re-read this to correct and edit, I find it disjointed and confusing. But I think that is reflective of how I feel. Last Blog I shared with you the raw facts of the problem, today was about sharing with you how it has made me feel.
I am only in week 2 and there is so much more to go and do so Thank you for allowing me to meander my way through my thoughts.
Pulse Lesson #2:
Every little bite makes a difference when you are eating an elephant.