By Foster Benjamin:
When Catherine Sandifolo conceived a child five years ago in Lilongwe, joy filled her.
The 30-year-old woman gave birth to a baby girl with hydrocephalus condition. Her joy, was however, short-lived.
This was a time her husband—all of a sudden-became filled with hatred towards the child.
“He told me he was not happy with the child”.
The husband kicked Sandifolo and her baby out of home.
She returned to her home village at Sekeni 2 in Lundu’s area in Chikwawa District a bitter woman.
“Although I was bitter, I was also happy for having a bouncing baby. I couldn’t dare losing her,” Sandifolo, a vegetable seller at Nchalo Trading Centre, said.
“Tales of women with hydrocephalus babies being divorced are many. Even if they are divorced, they find it hard to get other suitors just because of the condition of their children,”she said.
It never rained but poured for Sandifolo just when she hit home in Chikwawa.
Her relations condemned her for bringing a “strange” baby.
To make matters worse, some gave her a cold welcome.
“I set out for Nchalo and settled on my own. I love my daughter and I couldn’t allow all scorn and insult being hurled at me while I was in their midst,” she bitterly recalled,
“I struggle raising my child as every month I go to Queens (Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital) in Blantyre for checkups. That requires money to cater for transportation.”
Sandifolo said she admitted her child into a resource centre at St. Mathews Primary School.
However, insurmountable challenges at the school remain.
Inclusive education has been fraught with hiccups.
Chikwawa District Education Manager, Chrissie Chimsale, admitted that some schools do not have disability friendly structures such as ramps. “Where there are ramps, you find that they are not user-friendly. We appeal to the district council to consider helping us in this endevour,” Chimsale said.
The lament of lack of disability friendly infrastructure in public schools in Chikwawa has also been shared by Mother Mary’s Children Centre, an organisation promoting inclusive education in the district.
Project Officer, Marshal Nsonga, bemoaned shortage of special needs teachers in all the five resource centres the organisation is implementing its activities.
“We are still afar…classrooms are not enough; teachers are not enough.” In fact, the whole district has 15 inclusive education teachers. The onus rests on the specialist teachers to train fellow teachers on the modalities of inclusive education. Scratch below the surface and you will notice that all this is just mere talk. The reality is that the specialists are just another proverbial “Mr and Mrs Know-it-all”.
It is only organisations such as Mother Mary’s that are striving to put their fingers in the dyke.
Equipping teachers with basics in inclusive education remains a key feature in a quest for achieving inclusive education in Shire Valley, Nsonga claimed.
“The good thing is that most children are now coming in droves to the schools unlike in the past when they used to stay away due to stigma and discrimination.”
The echoes, however, do not spare officials from Chikwawa District Council.
Newton Munthali, director of planning and development, offers scant hope.
“We urge them to present their grievances to the VDCs (village development committees) who will forward them to ADCs (area development committees). The ADCs will channel those concerns to the council and we will see how best we can do since we have a basket of funds at the council like DDF, CDF and borehole funds,” he said.
But are they not empty promises let alone mere rhetoric?
Time will only tell. But the truth stands out: poverty is seriously choking desired inclusive education in Chikwawa District.
The Ministry of Education has Department of Special Needs whose mission is to “provide accessible, equitable and relevant education to all learners with special needs at all levels through quality special needs education teacher development, production of specialised instructional materials and assistive devices, research work, assessment, guidance and counselling and other related services.”
A report on Commonwealth Education Hub website indicates that the department undertook a pilot project in districts of Mwanza and Mangochi in 2011 resulting in the training of 270 teachers in inclusive education techniques, 185 community leaders were sensitized to disability rights, 136 Mothers’ Groups, Parent-Teacher Associations and School Management Committee and 1,300 potential special needs students were assessed through 19 specially arranged village-based health clinics.
Additionally, Chapter IV of Malawi Constitution section 25 says all persons are entitled to education.
Sustainable Development Goal 4 is about ensuring inclusive and equitable education and promoting life-long learning opportunities for all, all this supported by Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II.
In view all of this, what special needs learners are experiencing in Chikwawa is a violation of their fundamental human rights as enshrined in Malawi Constitution and United Nations charter.