Since 2012, Handicap International has been helping children with disabilities go to school in Sierra Leone. However, with the onset of the Ebola epidemic last year, schools were closed. Now that schools have reopened, Handicap International has been checking on children with disabilities previously enrolled to ensure they have returned to school. Recently, a staff member checked in with Fanta, 8, who has cerebral palsy.
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Fanta lives with her parents and little brother in Kono, Sierra Leone. In early 2014, Margaret, a Handicap International staff member, met Fanta, and realized she was not in school because of her disability. Fanta was given a wheelchair and funds to buy school supplies so she could attend classes.
“I was so happy when I could join my little brother in school,” said Fanta. “I got a uniform and textbooks, and I really felt like the other children. Because of Ebola, the schools were closed for a long time, and it made me feel really sad not to be able to go there.”
Handicap International’s team was relieved to know that Fanta and her family did not fall victim to Ebola. The schools eventually reopened their doors and Fanta’s classmates and teachers were happy to see her again. “We’re really lucky to have Fanta in our school,” said Mr. Emmanuel, one of her teachers. “Thanks to her, we’ve reorganized our buildings and always teach in a way that ensures all children are able to attend our classes.”
Margaret pays regular visits to Fanta, both at home and at school, to check if she is integrating successfully. “Every time I visit I can see that Fanta is getting on well with the other children, who play with her and help her move around in her wheelchair. Life at home has also changed. Fanta’s mother has noticed that she feels better, and she told me that she never misses an opportunity to use her notebook and pencils to practice her writing. School has helped her make progress and have fun.”
The Girls Education Challenge in Sierra Leone is a joint project funded by the UK Department for International Development. As part of this project, Handicap International identifies children who are unable to go to school because of their disability. A network of volunteers also identifies children with disabilities and helps their parents understand why their children need to go to school. These voluntary workers act as go-betweens with the local schools and make sure the schools are ready to include these children in their classes.