I have a crick in my neck. Every time I think about Malawi, and all the things I’ll be trying to see out of my truck window when I visit, my hands go to my neck.
As Malawi Project Co-ordinator for Sense Scotland’s new Scottish Government-funded programme, I’m privileged that, later this year I’ll get the chance to visit such a beautiful country and see beyond that offered to most visitors.
Our rather lengthily-titled ‘Promoting Equal Access to Education in Malawi Northern Region’ initiative will be delivered in partnership with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP). The programme, which kicked off in October 2018 aims to:
- challenge commonly held negative attitudes towards anyone with a disability,
- improve access to a good education for children with additional needs,
- reach more than 20,000 children, parents, teachers and community leaders to ensure a quality education for all.
As a former aid worker, and having worked on similar projects with Sense Scotland, I’ve had a long association with Malawi and visited many times. It’s a country which is unfamiliar on so many levels, but which has many similarities.
Throughout our four-and-a-half year project I’ll see the stunning scenery, reminiscent of the Highlands. I’ll see Lake Malawi, which makes me think of so many beautiful Scottish lochs. And I’ll be familiar with driving on the left, though the traffic hazards there are a bit different – unwary goats, chickens and the occasional monkey!
But there are other similarities which bring real impact to what we’re trying to do, similarities which involve people, including:
- parents determined their children have a quality education – an education which they weren’t offered,
- a willingness to embrace the abilities and dreams for all their children, regardless of any additional needs,
- the scale of the values our countries and our citizens share.
This project will really change the lives of children with additional learning needs in Malawi forever. Giving all children an education means they will have greater choices in their lives and the independence this brings. It impacts the community too – we’ll be changing attitudes and behaviour to be more inclusive. This morning I heard from a teacher in northern Malawi who recently attended a training workshop as part of the project. With limited knowledge about disability – and 94 children in his class – he told us: “I will identify all shortfalls in my school in order to achieve inclusive education. Not only that, I will motivate and encourage children with disability to go to school and I will also make some follow ups in their respective homes so .they should attend school and associate with their fellow friends.” One mum, and member of the government-established ‘Mother Group’ (who champion girls’ rights), said: “We (parents) will work hand in hand to ensure that all children with disabilities are being sent to school, since they are the future leaders of this nation.”
It’s an encouraging start and over the coming months we’ll be sharing more inspiring stories of what is changing for children with additional needs in Malawi. I’m already looking forward to a ‘pain in the neck’.
Thank you Scotland for your support.
Karen Goodman-Jones, Malawi Project Co-ordinator.