Changing perceptions of children with special needs living in remote communities in the Solomon Islands.
Rosie used to be too shy and admitted to not feeling a part of her school. She was lonely. Her mother would push her to attend school, but she simply didn’t want to go. This is because Rosie was born with a lower limb defect in which her lower legs did not develop.
Children living with disabilities in the Solomon Islands are often kept in their homes because parents feel shamed. They face many other barriers in fully participating in community activities, such as education. Children are often discriminated against based on the special needs they have (such as physical, mental, visual & hearing impairment) which results in low self-confidence.
Schools in the provinces are ill-equipped to meet the needs of children with varied abilities due to factors such as proximity to villages, physical access restraints and a lack of teacher training on how to include children with special needs.
Rosie met Save the Children through a Child Club at her school introduced by the DFAT-funded Protectim Pikinini Project. Through this project, Child Clubs were developed in 35 schools across Choiseul, Western, Malaita and Guadalcanal provinces to provide a children’s advocacy platform for children to talk about their rights and their wellbeing.
Maria Toreni, Save the Children Project Officer in Auki, noticed that the school had at least two children with visible disabilities and wanted to encourage inclusion and to create a method through which they would be included in the social aspects of their schools. A simple game of sit-down volley ball seemed to do the trick. Instead of standing, all children must sit and use their arm more actively, a skill at which Rosie excelled.
She quickly became a valuable member of a team, and amazed her peers with her quick arm movements. Her team seemed to always win, and Rosie became happy because other students used to previously play without her. But now they are quick to involve her.
Rosie rapidly gained confidence that expanded to the classroom. She began to study more, and education became the most important part of her life. She confesses to studying very hard, and wants to be a doctor in the future. And her future is certainly looking bright, as Rosie came in as the number one student in her class during the last school year.
Barnabas Boso, headmaster of Aonaasa Primary School, immediately took notice of the increased confidence in not only Rosie, but also in Matthew, a 14-year old boy with a similar physical condition, who also started to excel in school after the introduction of Save the Children’s Child Club and the sit-down volleyball game.
Mr. Boso admitted to being confused when Save the Children came to his school to introduce Child Clubs. He wasn’t sure what the purpose was and what impact it would realistically have on students. But as the program proceeded, teachers and students alike began to enjoy the trainings and physical activities.
After the trainings, children and teachers go back to their villages, and apply the things they learned through the Child Clubs, including disaster risk reduction, safety, hygiene promotion and sports. Teachers were also taught that all students are equal, including those with disabilities. This was evidenced through Rosie’s and Matthew’s top academic performance.
Mr. Boso has witnessed how children with disabilities would miss school for weeks, but when the teachers would systematically involve them in tasks, their absenteeism went down. Other parents in their communities saw that these children with disabilities were actively participating in school, and wanted to also enroll their children. After similarly gaining confidence Matthew became a prefect in his school and is now respected as a student representative.
Mr. Boso wanted to share a message with other headmasters in Malaita and throughout the Solomon Islands: “If you see children with disabilities in your villages, ask them to enroll in school. Involve them in different activities, especially as class captains. They are bright, excellent at English and reading, and they just need an opportunity and a push to be involved.”
Rosie also has valuable advice to other children with disabilities throughout the Solomon Islands. “Don’t be scared, do the very best you can in your education. If you are well educated, you will be the same as other students.”