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A teacher to remember

Woman smiling at the camera
Karen Goodman-Jones

It doesn’t matter who you ask, regardless of how long ago it was, but we all remember particular teachers from our schooldays who remain in our memories for different reasons.

This crosses countries and continents, and for Rachael, a pupil in primary in Nkhata Bay in northern Malawi, one particular teacher has already helped to change her life for the better.

In the second year of our four-and-a-half year project, funded by the Scottish Government, we’ve been identifying disabled children and supporting them to gain equal access to learning. In turn this gives them a future of their own choosing that only a formal education can bring.

Rachael is enjoying school.

This community-empowered project aims to address ingrained and inherited negative attitudes towards disability. We work with our local partners, Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, in 493 schools across the Northern Region. We work with the children, their parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and community leaders to understand the rights of all children to an education and enable them to reach their potential regardless of any additional needs. So far we’ve reached more than 3750 children.

Many common beliefs surround disabled children, including that they are ‘cursed’, incapable of learning and that it’s a waste of limited family resources to send them to school. Rachael told us that she used to be locked in her grandmother’s house because she was epileptic and wasn’t going to school. Her other grandmother heard about this and took over her care. But she didn’t think Rachael could go to school either.

Gilbert Nkhoma, a local teacher who was trained about the benefits of inclusive education on this project, used to see Rachael on his way to and from school and one day asked why she wasn’t there. The next day he went to meet her grandmother to talk about Rachael going back to school. At first resistant, she agreed on hearing about this project which encourages and supports disabled learners to attend.

Gilbert Nkhoma

He told us: “The project has helped a lot as there is change of mindset. Even Rachael’s grandmother’s attitude has changed, and she’s been able to open up about her granddaughter’s condition and attended family awareness communication training and joined the parent support group.”

Rachael said: “I am doing very well in class and even assignments given to us I pass very well. I believe I am going to do better. I am happy that I have been enrolled back in school than in the past when I was not going to school. I thank the teacher who came to talk with my grandmother that I should go back to school.”

Mr Nkhoma added: “When I saw Rachael not going to school I felt very sad and made an effort so that she should be enrolled. There is a big change on Rachael’s performance. She loves school so much and is always present.”

As Malawi Project Co-ordinator for Sense Scotland, I have the privilege of visiting Malawi and seeing for myself just what results this project is having. This is just the impact on one life that is being changed thanks to this project which still has three years left to run. Think how many more individual stories there will be?

Our thanks to the Scottish Government for making this possible.

Karen Goodman-Jones

Malawi Project Co-ordinator