For most children around the world, the Covid-19 crisis has made it harder to access education. The most disadvantaged and vulnerable children are also the most likely to have been affected - like Pinda, a young Malian girl helped by Humanity & Inclusion.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 caused severe disruption to the lives of people around the world. But for many vulnerable children living in extreme poverty, the closing of classrooms brought their education to a sudden halt. From March to September 2020, most schools remained closed in Mali, and only a small number of students were allowed into classrooms until December 2020.
The only way to access education was through the television and radio. Through an inclusive education project in the Sahel region led by Humanity & Inclusion, Pinda was given a solar-powered radio to follow her lessons over the airwaves.
"This initiative really helped me supervise her education at home while the schools were closed," says Pinda's aunt. “I left school in Primary Year 6, but I knew enough to help Pinda without a problem.”
For Pinda, following lessons on the radio not only allowed her to retain what she had learned before schools closed, it also kept her busy at home.
Image: A young girl named Pinda does schoolwork with the assistance of her aunt and a solar-powered radio outside of her home in Mali. Copyright: HI
Humanity & Inclusion observed the International Day of Education on January 24, by alerting Sahel countries’ governments and international cooperation organizations on the unjust exclusion of girls with disabilities from school.
Worldwide, women with disabilities are three times more likely to be illiterate than men without disabilities. The education of young girls, including girls with disabilities, is an injustice that Humanity & Inclusion is fighting against, particularly in the Sahel region, which includes many low-income countries.
In 2020, Humanity & Inclusion donors and partners helped fund 52 inclusive education projects in 27 countries in West, Central, North and East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This work focuses in particular on children with disabilities - the most vulnerable and excluded young learners in the world - in low-income countries, both in development and emergency contexts. Humanity & Inclusion teams work to increase enrollment, participation and the success of children and young adults with disabilities in education.
The reality of girls' education in the Sahel
In Mali, less than 18% of women with disabilities can read and write. In Niger and Mali, more than half of the girls enrolled in primary school do not follow through to secondary education. In Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls have completed secondary school. For girls with disabilities, they face double the challenge of obtaining an education.
Prejudices against disability
In the Sahel, children with disabilities also face horrific levels of prejudice and false beliefs. For instance, some families see having a child with a disability as a "tragedy" or a "punishment." Children with disabilities are treated poorly and sometimes even hidden. Some people believe that disability is contagious.
According to some beliefs in the Sahel Region, the bodies of people with disabilities have magical properties. Girls with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence because some believe that sexual intercourse could bring them wealth or power or even cure AIDS.
The role of boys
A boy is considered to be responsible for the family's future income. Boys are sent to school and have a better chance of getting a paid job. It is seen as unnecessary for girls to attend school, as they are routinely confined to domestic work.
Children with disabilities are very often seen as an additional burden on the family, and girls with disabilities even more so. The costs of educating girls with disabilities are considered too high, in part because of the economic loss involved. Girls with disabilities often contribute to the economic survival of the household through begging or by participating in domestic chores.
Obstacles at school
When they manage to attend school, girls with disabilities face many obstacles. They often drop out of school early as they approach puberty, due to the family’s concern to protect them from sexual violence and early pregnancy. The lack of adapted toilets is also a cause of repeated absences and abandonment.
"I prefer to study but if my parents force me to marry, I will agree to do what they tell me to do." - Fata, blind 11 year-old girl, Mali
In rural areas, the distance between home and school is a major obstacle to schooling for girls with disabilities. For students who walk to school, long distances pose a safety risk. And the cost of transportation is often too expensive for families.
In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, experiments in inclusive education for children with sensory impairments are successful. The conditions for success are based on an assessment of the child's needs and the commitment of teaching staff who are proficient in sign language or Braille.
"The first year was not easy learning Braille. I didn't feel comfortable. But now it's okay. As time went by, I managed to make friends and we learned to understand each other. I would like to go to high school in Senegal and become a lawyer in my country." - Daouda, 16-year-old girl with low vision, Mali
Importance of education
It is estimated that an additional year of study can increase a woman's income by 20%. If all adults in the world had completed secondary education, the world poverty rate would be halved.
Limited access to education leads to low participation in the world of work. In some low- and middle-income countries, the cost of excluding people with disabilities from the workforce is as high as 7% of gross domestic product.
Reducing inequalities between girls and boys in how they access education could boost the economy by between $112 billion and $152 billion each year in low- and middle-income countries.
Image: Oumou, 9, who has an amputation, sits behind her desk. She is a beneficiary of the Humanity & Inclusive Education project in Mali. Copyright: Pascale Jérôme Kantoussan/HI
With Humanity & Inclusion’s support, Dicko installs and repairs solar panels to support his family.
Finding paid work is difficult as a young adult in Mali, where the youth unemployment rate is as high as 32% in certain regions.
The challenge of entering the workforce is only exacerbated by unrest in the country. Mali is under threat from a rise in crime, the use of improvised explosive devices and the presence of armed groups that use extreme violence. Such dangerous variables have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. On top of that, a climate crisis causing intense flooding and droughts. As a result, almost 7 million people need humanitarian assistance.
In 2018, Humanity & Inclusion began working with young people, helping them obtain the qualifications and financial support needed to earn a living. Dicko is one of them.
A young father and experienced electrician, Dicko is realizing his ambitions with the help Humanity & Inclusion. Like many young entrepreneurs in Mali, Dicko is launching businesses that will have a positive environmental impact.
“I wanted to grow my business, but I wasn’t able to take on larger jobs because I couldn’t finance all the (startup) materials needed,” Dicko explains. “After presenting my business plan to Humanity & Inclusion, I received training in how to install and repair solar panels as well as a grant to buy equipment.”
Humanity & Inclusion has already helped 50 young Malians find employment in the solar energy sector. By the end of 2021, 3,000 young people like Dicko will have accessed the training and resources they need to work toward a stable and sustainable future.
“Specializing in solar energy means I have unique skills,” Dicko says. “I want to help market solar energy materials and equipment in Mali and convince people to invest in solar products. My dream would be to employ others in my business to help fight unemployment in my region.”
Image: A young man named Dicko squats beside a solar panel on a rooftop in Mali. He is holding a roll of tape and there are tools beside him. Copyright: HI
When Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, Humanity & Inclusion mobilized its teams to help the most vulnerable people affected by the crisis. Providing emergency response in almost all the countries where Humanity & Inclusion works has been a major challenge, especially since its emergency teams are normally able to focus their efforts on a handful of countries or regions. Humanity & Inclusion therefore provided emergency response and adapted its routine projects to help all those in need.
As of December 2020, more than 65 million people worldwide have been infected with Covid-19 and more than 1.5 million people have died.
While the epidemic has hit Western countries extremely hard, it is also affecting many countries in Asia, the Middle East, South and Central America and Africa, which are already affected by violent conflicts, political and socio-economic crises, frequent natural disasters, and significant climate change. Thousands of people need assistance.
In response to the Covid-19 crisis, Humanity & Inclusion has:
- Provided response in 46 of the 50 countries where it works;
- Implemented more than 160 projects in aid of people affected by the Covid-19 crisis;
- Given assistance to more than 2 million people between March and August 2020 alone;
- Provided more than 1.6 million people with information on Covid-19 prevention measures;
- Distributed more than 138,000 hygiene kits containing hand sanitizer, soaps, and other items;
- Distributed more than 800,000 masks;
- Provided food to more than 6,800 vulnerable families;
- Organized thousands of psychosocial support sessions for people who feel insecure or traumatized as a result of the crisis;
- Conducted thousands of tele-rehabilitation sessions in countries where a strict lockdown has been imposed to continue providing its routine services to people in need.
Beyond its impact on health, Covid-19 has had a considerable effect on children’s education. According to a Unesco report, some 1.6 billion children and teenagers have been deprived of school education in 190 countries as a result of the pandemic. The situation is even more worrying for children with disabilities, who find it harder to access education.
This pandemic has also considerably increased poverty and food insecurity. People in 25 countries are expected to face devastating levels of hunger in the coming months due to the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of acute food insecure people could increase from 149 million before the pandemic to 270 million.
Identifying the needs of the most vulnerable people
Humanity & Inclusion's teams and volunteers trained by the organization have identified the needs of the most vulnerable people including older people, single women with children, people with disabilities, migrant populations, and refugees. Those with the greatest needs are receiving direct assistance such as awareness sessions, distribution of hygiene kits, food assistance, cash transfers, and psychosocial support, or referrals to an organization that can offer them appropriate care, including healthcare for those infected with Covid-19.
Leading awareness-raising sessions
More than 1.6 million people affected by the pandemic have taken part in awareness sessions in villages and communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean, and at home. Humanity & Inclusion has provided people with information on Covid-19, including the risk of transmission and prevention measures, through group meetings in villages, refugee camps, and the like; one-on-one sessions; and awareness campaigns based on leaflets, posters, and other materials. The organization has also aired programs on radio and TV. For example, in Nepal, Humanity & Inclusion has produced videos with subtitles and in sign language adapted to people with hearing difficulties, in partnership with the World Health Organization, which have been aired on Nepalese television.
Offering psychosocial support
Humanity & Inclusion has provided psychosocial support to people affected by the pandemic and the trauma it has caused, from economic hardships to loss of family and friends. More than 225,000 people received psychosocial support, including by telephone, from Humanity & Inclusion. The organization has also provided support to medical staff who are on the front line.
Distributing hygiene items, food, and cash
Humanity & Inclusion has distributed more than 138,000 hygiene kits composed of hand sanitizer, soaps, cleaning supplies, and the like. More than 800,000 masks have also been provided to people who need them.
In many countries, the food supply chain has been disrupted by border closures and lockdown measures. In Bolivia, especially, it is more complicated to access food in cities. Price inflation has soared and many people, who have lost their jobs, have found it more difficult to access food. Humanity & Inclusion has provided food assistance to more than 6,800 families by distributing goods, cash transfers, non-perishable foods, fresh produce from partner organizations, and so on.
Humanity & Inclusion has also identified people living in situations of extreme vulnerability, including refugees and families living in extreme poverty, and provided them with cash transfers to access basic services and meet their basic needs such as paying rent, buying food, and going to the doctor. So far, 7,565 families have received cash transfers from Humanity & Inclusion.
Transporting humanitarian supplies
The measures put in place to combat the spread of Covid-19 have entrenched humanitarian crises and made it harder to implement humanitarian aid projects. Faced with the difficulties of transporting humanitarian supplies and mobility issues caused by lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions, Humanity & Inclusion, through its logistics department, has shifted the focus of its operations in Central African Republic, Bangladesh and Mali. News projects were also implemented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti for the transport and shared storage of health and humanitarian equipment, the repair of airport runways and roads to isolated health centers, and the like.
Humanity & Inclusion has also mobilized three experts from the Réseau Logistique Humanitaire (RLH) to coordinate airlifts to 12 countries. More than 141,000 cubic feet of emergency supplies and 1,200 humanitarian and medical staff were transported as part of this operation.
Conducting tele-rehabilitation sessions
Humanity & Inclusion continued providing rehabilitation care to patients who need it by adapting its working methods to the Covid-19 pandemic. Where the situation allowed, physical therapists continued to provide care in rehabilitation centers in compliance with safety rules such as social distancing and mask-wearing.
In countries where lockdowns were imposed, online tele-rehabilitation sessions have enabled thousands of patients to continue doing their physical therapy exercises at home by watching videos or receiving instructions via telephone, WhatsApp, and other technology. Humanity & Inclusion has organized thousands of tele-rehabilitation sessions in Nepal, for example, and developed virtual rehabilitation apps in Rwanda and Vietnam.
Promoting safety and inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion referred more than 470 people with the greatest protection needs, such as single women, isolated children, and refugees to specialized organizations able to offer them appropriate support.
Lastly, Humanity & Inclusion’s teams trained 201 staff from partner humanitarian organizations to include the most vulnerable people such as people with disabilities, isolated women, and older people in activities organized for victims of the Covid-19 crisis. The aim is to ensure that no one is left behind.
Every day, Mohammed, a community outreach volunteer for Humanity & Inclusion, rides his motorbike through the neighborhoods of Timbuktu, Mali, in search of children with disabilities who do not attend school. In Mali, as in many developing countries, parents often keep children with disabilities at home.
Mohammed is one of four community volunteers working with Humanity & Inclusion’s inclusive education project in Timbuktu. The volunteers meet with community and religious leaders and parents to find children with disabilities who, with support services like rehabilitation, could go to school.
Once a child has been identified, a series of meetings are organized with their parents. A big part of a volunteer’s job is convincing parents that their child can go to school. Due to a lack of awareness about disabilities, many parents are unprepared to raise children with disabilities and may question their potential.
"Thanks to our awareness raising campaigns,” says Mohammed, “people have started to understand that they need to allow these children to leave their homes.”
To ensure children are able to go to school, Mohammed and the other volunteers are trained to make a disability assessment of each child and to compile a list of their needs. If necessary, the children are connected to medical facilities where they can access physical therapy and other services free of charge. Humanity & Inclusion places children in schools where teachers have been trained to work with special needs students.
During the months that follow the first identification, Mohammed continues to pay regular visits to the children and their families to note their process in school. Since summer 2016, 129 children with disabilities from Timbuktu have been sent to primary schools with the support of HI.
In April 2017, Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion, traveled to Mali. He met with Kouyate, a father caring for seven children, three of whom live with physical disabilities. In this personal testimony, Jeff describes the difficulties faced by Kouyate and his family and the hope that Humanity & Inclusion offers.Read more
Since March 2016, Handicap International has educated nearly 20,000 people in northern Mali about the dangers posed by small arms, light weapons, and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Due to the conflict that occurred in 2012 and 2013, northern Mali has a very high incidence of weapons-related accidents.Read more
April 3, 2016 marks the third anniversary of the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an agreement that regulates the trade of conventional weapons. The Treaty aims to prevent arms from being used to commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, terrorism, or other war crimes. This is an important step in the fight against weapons proliferation. Handicap International advocates for governments to adopt and enforce the treaty as part of its mission to protect civilians.Read more
Malnutrition is endemic in Africa’s Sahel, an arid region in between the Sahara desert and the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, which is often affected by drought. Due to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals, children with malnutrition suffer from restricted growth and develop after-effects, which can be disabling in the long term. The result is not always fatal, but the impact on their quality of life can be devastating.Read more