In many communities in the region, decision making is the primary province of men, in effect, marginalising women and girls. As it happens, there is a high incidence of out of school children (OOSC), linked to the notion that children are meant to provide their families with a source of labour. Often this belief privileges boys, while pushing girls into early, forced marriages or a role tantamount to domestic servitude.
Unfortunately, such social norms can negatively impact learning opportunities for particularly those with physical disabilities - girls like Fasila. Here, a disability can be the subject of great stigma and families may hide a child with special needs, rather than allow her/him to live life publicly.
In a family of seven, Fasila is the fourth child of her parents, Ali and Awabu. Until the REACH project, a joint initiative by Educate A Child (EAC), a global programme of Education Above All (EAA) Foundation, and Plan International was operational in Gunsi, Fasila mainly stayed at home and was denied her basic right to education due to her disability. Hope for her was fleeting, even though she desired an education and fancied herself becoming a nurse one day.
“All I wanted was to live a normal life just like the other children....’’
Fasila was rarely able to play with other children, which left her isolated and sunk her self-esteem.
Fortunately, as part of the REACH project’s intervention strategy to engage communities, tailored messages on the value of girls’ education and access for OOSC through the complementary basic education (CBE) programme were delivered and well received in Gunsi. Fasila learned of the CBE programme and saw an opportunity to go to school. Although she was unsure whether her parents would grant their permission, Fasila persisted, determined to enrol.
Just when Fasila’s enthusiasm began to wane, project staff intervened. During the registration period, a facilitator approached Ali and Awabu. He explained the CBE concept and the importance of enrolling every out of school child in Gunsi. Fasila’s parents ultimately put their concerns aside and decided to enrol her. Still, they had no expectation she would ever enter formal schooling.
“The pressure from Fasila to attend school was getting too much and we thought this afternoon class would occupy her and that would be all she wants. After all, there was no way she could make it to formal school since she had never been to school before,” says her mother, Awabu.
Once in class, the devotion and passion for education shown by class facilitator, Ibrahim Jalil, was a boon for the newly enrolled, Fasila. She had encountered someone who believed in her and was willing to support her, for Jalil had been trained in inclusive education as part of the project. Despite the slow pace at which she moved, she was one of the few students who regularly arrived for class early. Her punctuality, attendance and excellent performance made her one of the top pupils in the class!
“I’m glad her parents allowed her to be part of this class. She is intelligent, committed and hardworking, and I know she will excel [in] formal school,” remarks Jalil.
Fasila’s social life also improved as she began to form friendships with her classmates. ‘’When I was in the house, I was always feeling lonely and rejected but now I have made friends…. I don’t notice my disability anymore….’’
Over time, her parents began to show more interest in their daughter’s education, as project staff engaged them on gender equality issues, child protection and the value of education. Ali and Awabu took note of the positive changes in their daughter and were amazed to learn of her outstanding performance in class. Though they were thrilled, they were also ashamed for stigmatising Fasila and blocking her path to education. They recognised their mistake, declaring, “We have come to realise that Fasila is an asset and we are willing to provide all the support within our [means]. She may have a disability, but she has what it takes to fulfil her dreams.” To help ease Fasila’s movement to and from the CBE class, her parents bought her a wheelchair.
With that type of backing at home, Fasila graduated from the CBE class in July 2019. Upon graduation and an official learning assessment, she transferred into formal education, primary class 4, at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Primary School. Fasila is now resolute about making a positive impact in Gunsi and using her story to motivate others. As she says, “With all the support I am getting…. I am determined to complete my education and become a nurse so that in the future, I’ll be able to encourage others who might find themselves in my situation.”