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Building a brighter future for children with disabilities

Volunteer Jo worked in Rwanda supporting children with disabilities access education.jpg Mussa Uwitonze

Volunteer Jo with children from Ngwino Nawe - a village for children with disabilities that works with VSO

Volunteer Jo Doyne is based in western Rwanda, supporting teachers to provide appropriate teaching to children with special needs. She talks to us about her work with Ngwino Nawe, a special needs school.

Counting the missing

In Rwanda, only around 2% of children with a disability are estimated to be in education and many schools lack the training or understanding to support those with physical or intellectual impairments.

Jo is part of a project called INSPIRED, which works to enable children and communities to have better access to quality education. 

‘Families don’t understand that their less able children can still learn and should go to school,’ Jo explains. 

‘Here, many people are poor and caring for disabled children can take time away from earning money. Fathers might leave, blaming the mother for the issues. Grandmothers are often left bringing up children.’

Children and families become isolated

It’s vital to work not just with schools but with communities as a whole.

‘People generally feel that God has cursed you to have a child with a disability. It’s very isolating. Children are left at home. Some are just physically disabled but then develop an intellectual issue without any friendship groups to stimulate them. It could ultimately shorten their life expectancy.’

Adapting to the context

With her skills and expertise as a disability and inclusion advisor, Jo supported teachers at the local school to develop their teaching methods and improve their understanding of disability.

She has had to adapt her own methods to the local context, often working with colleagues to find creative ways to use the resources available. Together they turn everyday items like salsa tins or rice sacks into toys or books, that can engage the children in new ways. 

Jo also trains parents in sign language, so they can communicate with their children.

Jo Doyne playing with children from Ngwino Nawe village, Mussa Uwitonze

Jo Doyne playing with children from Ngwino Nawe village,

Supporting motivated teachers

‘Teachers here are very motivated,’ she says, ‘They have boundless energy. They are friendly and open to new ideas. They want to help but they don’t realise that, for example, the child who never gets their sums right might have a learning issue and therefore needs different support.’ 

‘They often haven’t had training in special educational needs. I am helping them to understand more about Down’s syndrome and other conditions; knowledge which will mean they can support a child more accurately.’

Seeing the difference

Jo can pinpoint the moment her work was really starting to tell. She’d been away on a short break; when she returned to the school she was volunteering in, she had a wonderful surprise:

‘I found the classrooms amazingly decorated with lovely new visual aids. The teachers explained that even though I was away, they continued to run sessions amongst themselves to plan their lessons. That’s when I could tell I was doing a good job.’

The next challenge

Jo is seeing the results of her hard work pay off in the school, but she’s not stopping there! 

‘I’m aiming to scale up this work and capture a good model of practice that can be shared with other special schools nationally in 30 other schools.’

Find out more about volunteering as an education specialist

Find out more about volunteering

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