By Abdulrasheed Hammad
Valérie O Aihimegbe, a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome, was enrolled in a private school in Sokoto alongside people without disabilities. However, due to a lack of improvement and proper care, her parents pulled her out of school and enrolled her in Handicap Opportunity for Positive Engagement Society (HOPES), an organization providing free education to children. disabled.
Aihimegbe speaks but cannot hear, which has affected his ability to learn. Before HOPES, she could not hold objects or sit in one place. But now she actively participates in school activities with other students.
“During the rally, when other children recite the national anthem, she often participates to show that she is following. There are a few gestures she displays when reciting I inflate my tire. She will move her hands like the others move theirs. Her parents said she loved music and sang occasionally. She gets on well with us,” explained Rafaatu Ibrahim, owner and co-founder of HOPES.
The scholarship allows Valerie to go out every day to see different colors and people instead of staying home.
“The problem with keeping them at home is that they will stagnate and it will not allow their mental faculties to develop because they see the same color and the same group of people every day.
“Changing their environment helps them develop their mental faculties. If you leave these kids in one place it will make them worse, but taking them out to see what others are doing would help. Although it takes time for them to change positively, as such changes take a gradual process. But relentlessly, they will be useful to society,” Rafaatu said.
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At HOPES, the teaching is more practical than abstract, and the subjects are limited to English and mathematics. For example, an apple or a toy airplane could be used to explain the alphabet “A”.
We try to space out lessons as much as possible until we are sure they can identify alphabets or words and count on their own,” explained Maymunatu Abubakar, one of the teachers.
“Classes are not divided into preschool, kindergarten or primary. but students are grouped according to their degree of improvement. Depending on their performance in their exams and their level of assimilation at the end of each session, we will create a special class B for those who have improved. We will also improve the way we teach those in Special Class B. This is how we determine their promotion until they are qualified to go to secondary school,” she added.
Mustapha Muhammad, 17, was previously enrolled in a specialized public school, but Muhammad’s parents withdrew him from public school due to overcrowded classrooms, unsupportive environment, as well as lack of support. learning facilities and support required.
Just like Aihimegbe, Muhammad has Down syndrome. Before he enrolled in HOPES, he couldn’t do anything with his hands. However, his situation is changing since he can now pick up objects on his own.
Rafaatu, commenting on the improvement seen in Muhammad, said: “If the power is restored, Mustapha will come to me and say ‘ankawo wuta” in Hausa (meaning the light has been restored), then it will turn on the switch.
Habibat Usman, 14, is another beneficiary of the NGO. This journalist discovered that she used to scribble zeros in her book. Although she can speak and hear, she also has Down syndrome.
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“Every time she (Habibat) comes home, she will say, ‘Auntie, goodbye, goodbye’ and in the morning she will say hello to auntie. She is calm now. We used to chase her for [get her to] sit in the same place, but now she understands that she has to behave well in school,” Rafaatu revealed.
One of the parents, Muhammad Kabiru, who withdrew his child from a special public school, said: “I was introduced to HOPES by one of my colleagues, and was told that it was a special school. well established that suited them. So far, I am very satisfied with the way the school deals with the children, especially the most vulnerable.
“My child is always happy to go [to HOPES]. Even if there is a holiday or during the weekend, he still wants to go. He took his uniform, insisting that he had to go to school. I can testify that they take good care of him here,” he said.
HOPES, a non-profit organization meets the needs of children with disabilities by providing free education. It was established in 2018. Thirteen students have received scholarships from HOPES. Most of the beneficiaries are children who are hard of hearing, visually impaired and suffer from mental disorders, in particular Down syndrome and autism.
As part of the efforts to effectively educate children, Rafaatu is currently enrolled at Shehu Shagari College of Education to study Special Education. Rafaatu’s quest to gain more knowledge has become imperative, given the experiences of children with disabilities. Apart from being neglected and stigmatized by society, people tend to see them as a burden. Many of them also do not have access to the type of education that meets their needs.
Children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school
A report in Premium Times last year found that of the approximately 10.2 million out-of-school children in the country, according to data from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Sokoto has 436,570. .
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Similarly, ActionAid Nigeria pointed out that 95.5% of children with disabilities are out of school due to their condition, while an analysis of data from last year’s UNICEF report shows that children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school than children. without disability.
But according to the Child Rights Act (CRA), every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education provided by the government.
Last year, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) said that more than 100,000 persons with disabilities would receive scholarships this year to study inside and outside the country.
NCPWD Executive Secretary James Lalu had said the Commission was partnering with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to see how to make education attractive to people with disabilities.
During this time, Lalu could not be reached for an update on the execution of the project and the plans for continuing intervention for people with disabilities proved to be aborted, as several calls and messages passed to him have been ignored.
All efforts to also reach the Sokoto State Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Muhammad Bello, on the state government’s plan and policies regarding the education of children with disabilities proved futile, as several calls and messages forwarded to him were also ignored.
An email sent to the official state government email address had not yet been opened, according to an email tracker employed by this reporter.
Additionally, the state education commissioner, Bello Abubakar Gwuiwa, did not respond to several SMS and WhatsApp messages sent to him.
Funding the initiative…
One of the main goals of HOPES is to reduce the number of out-of-school children with disabilities in Nigeria. “We aim to give them a solid education so that they stand out in society so that they are not left behind and can also do what non-disabled people can do through education,” noted AbdulKareem Ibrahim, co-founder of the NGO.
This journalist understood that the school also had a section for non-disabled students, where parents pay their children’s tuition. Income generated by this section, along with donations from philanthropists and Founder’s Funds, is used to pay staff salaries and other expenses.
Regarding the section of the school that provides scholarships for children with disabilities, AbdulKareem said, “Most of the parents have brought their children to our school for better results and better care. Parents always appreciate our work on their children because they know how difficult it is to manage such children. We have received many positive comments and recommendations from parents.
“Most of our children come from middle-income families, where it is difficult for them to spend a lot of money to send their children outside the country where children with such needs are cared for. The school was created to serve the community, especially children with special needs.
Speaking about the other challenges, Rafaatu mentioned that the cramped rental apartment prevents other students from benefiting from the scholarship. According to her, a permanent apartment owned by the school will go a long way to improving the initiative.
“We have not been able to publicize our services because we are afraid of receiving children that we cannot manage. I believe there are many in society, and expectations will be high, but we run the school out of our own pockets, so currently we don’t have the capacity to take care of more,” she said. declared.
She added that the NGO needs experts in special education who would volunteer to sensitize teachers on how to better train these children. Although they have the same program with non-disabled children, the methodology is different.
The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults’ Campus Solutions project which is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) as part of the LEDE Scholarship 2022.