Changing perceptions of children with special needs living in remote communities in the Solomon Islands.
Rosie didn’t like going to school because she didn’t feel welcome. Her mother would encourage her to attend school, but she simply didn’t want to go. Other children made fun of her because she has a different way of moving around – she sits, and uses her hands rather than her feet.
Children living with disabilities in the Solomon Islands are often not allowed to go to school as parents want to protect their children from being criticised by others. They often feel a sense of shame as there is a stigma attached to having a child with a disability.
For those who do go to school, there are multiple barriers that they face – difficulty getting to school, lack of appropriately trained teachers, inaccessible classrooms and toilet facilities, and exclusion from play and sports activities. As you can imagine, the inability to participate in school life has a significant impact on a child’s sense of confidence and connection to others.
Rosie became involved in one of Save the Children’s Child Clubs at her school, which is part of our DFAT-funded Protectim Pikinini program. Through this project, clubs were developed in 35 schools across Choiseul, Western, Malaita and Guadalcanal provinces to provide an opportunity for children of all abilities to come together to talk about issues they are facing in their communities.
Maria Toreni, Save the Children Project Officer in Auki, noticed that the school had at least two children with disabilities and wanted to ensure that the Child Clubs were inclusive of all children. To do this, she started to think of activities that everyone could participate in -a simple game of sit-down volley ball seemed to do the trick. Instead of standing, all children were seated to play which meant that all children could participate on an equal basis.
Rosie quickly became a valuable member of a team, and amazed her peers with her speed and agility. Her team seemed to always win, and Rosie felt happy to be playing with her peers.
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 its inclusive activities.
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.”