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Too near but too far from school

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By Samuel Kalimira

It is almost lunch time.

She is alone outside basking in the sun.

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She then crawls with difficulties, calling for her mother but she is nowhere around.

The mother might be in the fields.

“I need a wheelchair for easy mobility,” she says inaudibly as we initiate a conversation.

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Chisomo Mwale, 17, from Guwamu Village in Traditional Authority Kabunduli in Nkhata Bay is physically challenged, hence struggles with mobility.

Thus, despite living near Kanthete and Chipambo primary schools, about five and seven kilometres respectively, Chisomo has never attended school and she is mostly kept indoors.

Chisomo’s mother Allen Gama said her daughter is often kept indoors because she cannot manage to carry her on her back all day, as she goes about fending for the family.

Gama nearly shed tears when she remembered how her daughter who was born without a disability became physically challenged at the age of three.

“She fainted while I was bathing her. I took her to the hospital and I was told she was anaemic, after a few days, my daughter stopped walking,” she said.

Her father James Mwale, looking hopeless, said they struggle to take care of their daughter.

Mwale said his family does not know that there are special needs schools that their daughter can attend.

He said his daughter has no future, unless government and other stakeholders come in for her rescue.

“I don’t see the future of my daughter because she has never gone to school. We have lost hope in her,” Mwale said.

Gama said the family is struggling to earn a living because they spend most of their time taking care of their daughter.

“We leave her in the house and go to the fields but still my heart would always be at home thinking of my daughter. I even fail to do piecework,” Gama said.

If all people including her brothers go out, Chisomo acts as a guard at home.

She has never been trained in any skills that would help her be self-reliant.

Chisomo is one of many children with disabilities who are not only failing to access quality education but kept indoors.

Education is a key to success but not to Chisomo and others who are helpless in their homes.

Ministry of Education Public Relations Officer Chikondi Chimala said Chisomo, like any other child with disability, has a right to go to school because the country’s basic education is compulsory for all children.

Chimala, however, admitted that the ministry is doing little in operationalising compulsory basic education because many schools have limited disability-friendly learning infrastructure among others.

“As the ministry, we are looking at how we would be operationalising basic compulsory education. We are looking at ensuring that there is friendly learning infrastructure, qualified and trained teachers and most importantly parental support for children with disabilities,” Chimala said.

Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) Mzuzu Rehabilitation Officer Hilda Zimba said keeping the daughter indoors and not reporting to the institution was a mistake on the part of her parents, which she said has compromised Chisomo’s future.

Zimba said Chisomo needs support such as life skills training but she said due to limited resources at Macoha, it might take long to help.

“She needs to be supported so that she can manage to take care of herself apart from being supported with a wheelchair for her mobility so that she can start associating with people,” she said.

Minister of Gender and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati said her ministry ensures that people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities just like any other person.

“But for children, we need parents to provide support and work with us all the time,” Kaliati said.

Section 23 of the Constitution stipulates that “all children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, are entitled to equal treatment before the law, and the best interest and welfare of children shall be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting them”.

According to Macoha, Chisomo is among 1.7 million people with disabilities, some of whom are helpless.

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