GNA Feature by A.B.
Ho, Feb. 27, GNA - Abla Ewoenam is still not back to school after the Christmas break. She has already missed three terms at the Master Seed International School in Ho. But hope of her quick return is high among her teachers and mates.
Her desk is still unoccupied, with her teachers placing calls regularly to her parents for her comeback.
Ewoenam’s relocation to the E.P. Church Prayer Camp at Ziope, a farming community in the Agotime-Ziope District for over a year, is a duty call- to take care of her paralysed elder brother at the camp.
Though just eight years and partially blind-(low vision), Ewoenam accepts the responsibility as the only girl among three boys and the last child.
She looks frail but strong enough to be the pillar for her 17-year old brother who is bedbound after he suffered an epileptic fit.
Her first place of call every morning is her brother’s bed, no more her books or school bag. She helps her mother in moving her brother about in bed so that he doesn’t sleep on one side of the body for a long period, in their rented apartment close to the prayer camp.
She has many other duties, ensuring that her brother’s chamber pot is emptied regularly. She feeds and baths him as well.
Ewoenam’s real work starts after 06:00 hours when her mother leaves for the farm and later the market, her jobs, which sustain the family, with some support from her professional carpenter husband, who is hardly at home.
Sweeping, helping cook, washing the dish and ensuring that her brother doesn’t soil himself are included in Ewoenam’s duties.
During prayer and deliverance days at the camp, her task is heavier. The leggy girl helps in carrying her brother to the prayer camp, about a kilometre away and watches over him throughout the session and carry him back to the house.
That is the routine, with little time for Ewoenam to learn her braille, sent to her by the New Horizon Foundation of the Blind (NHFB), a Ho-based non-governmental organisation with focus on persons with visual impairment.
WHERE IS ZIOPE?
But Ewoenam is not the only child with disability who is not in school. Plan International says “children with disabilities are 10 times less likely to attend school than those without. Even if they attend school, they are more likely to drop out early while the level of schooling they receive is frequently below that of their peers.”
It says girls with disabilities experience greater exclusion and injustices as a result of their disability and gender.
According to Sustainable Aid through Voluntary Establishment (SAVE-Ghana), more than 30 per cent Ghanaian children with disabilities are not in school.
Ziope has quite a number of these children. At Kpetoe-Wodome, near Ziope, Sitso and her siblings, Michael and Kekeli have eye problems and are not in school. Whiles Sitso, the eldest is completely blind, Michael and Kekeli have low vision so they are all home helping their blind mother in selling charcoal.
Children with different kinds of disabilities are easily found wandering in the community, located between Ghana and the Republic of Togo, during class hours. Many more hidden in rooms due to cultural stigma and lack of awareness.
At Ziope-Atsreve, Christiana, 17, and a few others are not in school but learn the braille on their own with the help of some technical officers from New Horizon Foundation of the Blind.
The situation is not different in Ho, the Volta Regional capital. Checks indicate that public and private schools in the Municipal area are refusing to enroll children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The schools claim they do not have facilities and the capacity to handle children with special needs and turn them away.
Mr Brandford Tay, Member, Steering Committee of Coalition of NGOs for disabilities in Ho said more than 20 public and private schools had refused to admit five children with disabilities, citing lack of special needs teachers.
Investigations show that though some district assemblies were restructuring school infrastructure in the spirit of inclusive education, the Ghana Education Service (GES) is showing little or no commitment to the implementation of the inclusive education policy.
It is interesting to note that, GES continues to procure textbooks meant only for ‘abled’ children, with the argument that there is no budget to develop disability friendly teaching and learning materials.
Those challenges prompted NHFB to develop the “Resource Dormitory Facility” project to house 40 visually impaired children, most of whom are neglected because of their plight. The facility will prepare the children to participate effectively in the main stream school system.
They will be given functional skills including; braille literacy, mobility and orientation skills and accessible computer training.
The 48,000 euro project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development with support from the German Association for the Support of the Blind has well equipped dormitories, rooms for care givers and other facilities that would enhance teaching and learning to prepare Ewoenam and other children with disabilities for Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), which most of them perform poorly in.
Mr Ofori, the Director who said skilled personnel would be assigned to the children to engage them after lessons in the formal school system lamented that lack of trained special needs teachers accounted for the low enrolment of children with disability in school, with many hidden in rooms in deprived communities.
The New Brunswick Association for Community Living says inclusive education provides better opportunities for learning because children with varying disabilities are often better motivated when they learn in classes surrounded by other children.
Open Society Foundation says education that excludes and segregates perpetuates discrimination against traditionally marginalised groups and that when education is more inclusive, so are concepts of civic participation, employment, and community life.
It is therefore imperative that stakeholders reframe inclusive education in the country as a shared responsibility, where schools receive adequate support and parents empowered to assert their children’s right to education in an inclusive setting.
Disability, inclusion and gender equality are key factors in achieving inclusive education because both are significant elements of exclusion, so empowerment is crucial to ensure that children with varying disabilities like Ewoenam, that are helpless, are seen, heard and remain in school.