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Finding Ghana’s hidden children

Mary volunteered as an education specialist in Ghana, supporting children with disabilities gain access to school Teresa Menka

Mary with pupils of Gaare Gbani Kindergarten, Talensi dustrict, Ghana

Education is a direct route out of poverty. But for children with disabilities, access to a classroom is often denied. In Africa, it is estimated that less than one in ten children with disabilities attends primary school. 

Mary Loureth Carnable is a disability specialist volunteering with VSO in Ghana as part of VSO’s ‘Tackling Education Needs Inclusively’ (TENI) project. The project aims at ensuring vulnerable children such as girls and children with disabilities have access to an education. Last year the TENI project reached over 17,000 children in Northern Ghana, including 1,200 children with disabilities. 

VSO volunteer Mary is supporting education initiatives in Ghana – a country where over 300,000 children are not in school. She works alongside local colleagues of the Ghana Education Service in Talensi district, to ensure vulnerable children have access to education. 

Children left at home

As an experienced social worker Mary has already worked with children with disabilities in her native Philippines. However, given the numerous barriers to education for some children in the African district, her role in Ghana is complex.

Children with disabilities are often left at home, unable to go outside the house let alone make it to school. 

She says, “The general attitude to children with disabilities in this region is bordering from discrimination to completely ignoring them. The parents perceived incapacity or incapability of their children is what hinders the child from going to school in the first place.”

Hidden away at home these children are not just missing from school, they are invisible. No one outside of their families and communities know they exist. These children must first be discovered before they can be engaged in schooling. 

As such, a major part of the TENI programme involves local volunteers mapping communities to discover if there are any children that are being held back in this way.  Once found, parents must then be convinced that not only is their child able to go to school but that they’ll benefit from it too. She says,“Many parents never thought that children with disabilities can be brought to school. Especially those with a learning disability or those with physical disability.”

Mary working with local teachers at Gaare Gbani school, Ghana Teresa Menka

Mary working with local teachers at Gaare Gbani school, Ghana

A welcome to class

It is not only parents that have misgivings about schooling children with disabilities.  Teachers too have to be convinced and provided with appropriate training. 

Mary says, “The general attitude of the teachers is a bit apprehensive. Their perception is that teaching children with disabilities is very hard”

As part of the programme, training workshops are provided for teachers, run by Mary and her colleagues at the Ghana Education Service. However, it takes far more than one intervention. She explains, “When you want to increase the capacity or the capability of teachers it can never be done in one workshop or in one orientation.”

Ongoing monitoring and activities within the schools is part and parcel of Mary’s placement. Importantly Mary is developing the abilities of her colleagues at the Ghana Education Service – ensuring the work continues long after she has left.

volunteer Mary with her motorbike in Ghana Teresa Menka

Mary commutes on her motorbike to schools whilst on placement in Ghana

Change is happening

Changing long-held attitudes is not easy. 

But by working with communities, increasing the abilities of teachers and by demonstrating the benefits of education for all, things are beginning to transform. 

Ghana has recently introduced a nationwide inclusive education policy. It works on two fronts – enforcing the rights of children with disabilities to an education as well as educating parents through community sensitisation programmes. Resources are now being invested in addressing these issues on a national scale.

She says, “Those attitudes will pave a great way for children with disabilities to be accepted in schools and to be included in school and to finish school.

 “I see the teachers now more open to receiving children with disabilities into schools. It feels like my stay here in Ghana has been worth it.”


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