Impacting the lives of children with disabilities through access to Quality Education and Skills Training
Organisation: Youth Alive
Project Title: Impacting the lives of children with disabilities through access to Quality Education and Skills Training in 2 districts in the Upper East Region of Ghana
Geographcal Coverage: Kassena Nankana Municipal (KNM), Kassena Nankana West (KNW) District in the Upper East Region (UER) of Ghana
Project Duration: 24 Months
Project Start: April 2018
Total Project Budget: USD 152,412
Who Are We?:
Youth Alive evolved from the Tamale Street Children’s Project initiated by ActionAid Ghana in 1995 and registered as an autonomous local NGO in January 2002, under the name Youth Alive. We are a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) working in the poorest part of Ghana (ie the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions) where available statistics indicate that 9, 8 and 7 out of every ten people are below the poverty line in the Upper West (UWR), Upper East (UER) and Northern Regions (NR) respectively. This level of poverty makes the most vulnerable in suffering various forms of dehumanizing discrimination. In this respect we work to improve the lives and restore the self esteem of vulnerable children/youth and vulnerable women to enable their reintegration into society so they can contribute to the development of their families, communities and the nation at large. Our thematic areas of interventions include Education, Health, Youth Empowerment (Agriculture/Vocational Skills Training), Women’s Economic Empowerment & Participation, Governance and Organizational Development. We are largely a Social Inclusion organization working mostly, but not exclusively, in rural Districts to promote and protect the rights of:
- disadvantaged children/youth (street children/youth, children/youth with disabilities, sexually abused children/youth, HIV/AIDS victims/orphans, girls labeled ‘witches)
- Vulnerable women: these are mostly parents of (a) above or are themselves victims of various forms of abuse eg witch craft labeling, widowhood
- Poor rural communities, urban slums
Our Vision is “A Ghana where every child can live a life of dignity and self worth”.
Mission: Youth Alive exists to alleviate of the vulnerability of children/youth in Northern Ghana through promoting their active participation and building relationships with them, in collaboration with their parents, guardians, local authorities, communities, central government, relevant NGOs and the general public
Objectives:. As an organization that promotes child rights and social inclusion we specifically seek:
- To support disadvantaged children/youth to access quality health and have formal education, or vocational skills training that enable them move out of poverty and live independent and responsible adult lives in dignity.
- To create opportunities for women’s economic empowerment, as care givers, and effective participation in decision making a al levels.
- To educate and build the capacity of communities to sustainably and effectively influence social challenge and to move out of poverty.
- To advocate at the local and national levels for the recognition, protection and promotion of child rights.
Why is this project needed at this time in this location? What are the factors of poverty affecting their lives?
No accurate survey has been conducted nationwide to ascertain the magnitude of disability in Ghana. However, earlier surveys in the 1990s indicate a higher rate of disabilities in rural Ghana. According to the WHO, 7%-10% of Ghana’s population, of approximately 28million, lives with disabilities. The Ghana Health Service (GHS) reports of a growing trend of disability in the country. If children are a vulnerable and marginalized group, then Children With Disabilities (CWDs) are a much more vulnerable and marginalized group. Perceived as unproductive and incapable of contributing anything to the family, CWDs are considered a burden to the family and society; hence, suffer unimaginable levels of discrimination and stigmatization. Culturally in Northern Ghana (NG), particularly in the project area (UER), disability is linked to beliefs and myths which are dehumanizing in nature. Cerebral palsy, in particular, is associated with evil spirits and such children suffer huge discrimination. A child born with an abnormality, eg big headed, limbless, turned eyes, albino, etc, is considered a ‘spirit’ sent from the underworld as a curse to bring untoward hardship to the family in atonement for the ‘sins’ of a family member(s). A child born with severe cerebral palsy is called a snake. Perceived as a curse, any child born with a disability must be killed for the family to escape the curse. This contravenes MDG 4 which aspires to protect the lives of children (by reducing child mortality) and Article 13 (1) of the 1992 Constitutional of Ghana which guarantees the Right to Life of all citizens. The KNW, KNM of the UER are particularly known for their notorious belief in and killing of ‘spirit’ children. Children who are discovered, later in life, to have a disability (epilepsy, intellectual disability, hearing impairment, down syndrome, autism, etc) also suffer severe discrimination and stigmatization. Socially: The daily life of CWDs is patterned on exclusion. There is usually a social distance between CWDs and family members/society. They are often locked up (sometimes in shackles) in homes. ‘Snake children’ are locked up in rooms in obscure corners of the house) away from society as they are considered an embarrassment to the family. Those who venture out of their homes are ridiculed and given all kinds of dehumanizing names. Hence, CWDs do not enjoy the fun of childhood. In the face of limited resources, able bodied siblings will be considered first for food, clothing and shelter. Education: SDG 4 aspires for “inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all. It focuses on eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities” Generally, however, CWDs are not enrolled in school. Many CWDs, in the UER never get the opportunity to attend school. They are seen as never-do-wells whose education will be of no benefit to the family and, hence, a waste of resources. Parents see no relevance in investing in their CWDs. Family poverty aggravates the plight of CWDs. Thus, poor parents will prefer to invest in the education of their able bodied children leaving out those with disabilities. If CWDs are lucky to be enrolled in school, they usually face a hostile school environment. They are ridiculed and suffer a lot of discrimination from their mates/teachers. Their plight is worsened by poor support systems at the institutional level. The national Education Strategy Policy (2003-2015) had as its goal ‘Inclusive Education’. It stressed the need for “equitable educational opportunities” where children with “non-severe special education needs” were to be mainstreamed into public schools by 2015. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints the Ghana Education Service (GES) has still not been able to implement the government policy of integrated school system. One of the objectives of the Disability Act 715 of 2006 is ‘to ensure access of PWDs to education and training at all levels”. This is only on paper. There are 1000s of CWDs whose parents are unable to enroll them in school because of non availability of suitable schools for CWDs in the districts. Where there is school, proximity from the child’s community and lack of boarding and transport facilities become a hindrance. Parents are unable to walk children to school every morning, walk back home, come back at the close of the day to pick the children and walk them home. This is energy sapping and time consuming, taking mothers, in particularly, away from their income generating activities; hence, a disincentive to enroll CWDs in school. This is more so with parents of children with cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, learning and severe disabilities. SDG 4 also calls “for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”. In most public schools children have to climb steps to access their classrooms, making it extremely difficult for the blind and physically challenged to enroll in such schools. Health: SDG 3 aspires to “ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all people of all ages”. Though disability is (wrongly) perceived as a sickness, their plight in the health sector is not different from education above. At the family level CWDs suffer discrimination as their health needs are not swiftly attended to compared to their able bodied siblings. They are left to their fate, sometimes, with the hope they will just die and relieve the family of the ‘burden’. Females with disabilities have a much higher risk of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Firstly, the men who take advantage of them see them as a cheap source of satisfying their sexual desires for free. Secondly, some men believe that disabled girls are less in demand so the possibility of contracting HIV from them is less; others sleep with them for ritual purposes, eg, to make money. At the national level, CWDs are not entitled to exemption from paying subscription fees under the National Health Insurance scheme unless they are classified as ‘indigents’ through screening by health personnel. That makes their chances of accessing free healthcare dependent on the discretion of health personnel, not on the law. In addition, insurance does not cover rehabilitation services, prostheses, and appliances. The attitude of health care delivery personnel towards CWD and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) is a disincentive for CWDs/PWDs to seek health care. In a pre-proposal consultative meeting, a disabled woman narrated how a nurse, at the hospital, told her to give way for other patients to be attended to because she is already a ‘corpse’. Employment/Political/Legal context: SDG 8 aspires for “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. The Labour Act (2003) and the Disability Act (2006) seek to address factors that contribute to extreme poverty among PWDs, calling for disablement units to be created in each district to assist PWDs to access employment. Unfortunately these disablement units and modalities for accessing these incentives have not been set up. The law provides incentives for employers who engage PWDs and businesses set up by PWDs. PWDs are, additionally, not able to access the 2% , now 3%, of the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) from the DAs, as by prescribed by law. These are political and legal provisions that the Organizations of PWDs (OPWDS) who are member organizations of the Ghana Federation of the Disabled (GFD) could take advantage of to help CWDs. Unfortunately all these provisions are only good on paper and the OPWDs lack the capacity to fight for and claim their rights. This narrative also serves as a disincentive for parents to enroll CWDs in school and for CWDs to be interested in school as there is almost no chance of accessing employment after school.
How and why have the communities and beneficiaries been selected?
The Balobia Special school and an additional 21 schools in the two districtsand were selected based on consultation with the local authorities and target beneficiaries (parents, teachers and children), our knowledge of the region and these communities, given their lower than average The Upper East Region is the second poorest region in Ghana, with 7, out of 10 people, living below the poverty line. The 2 selected districts are not only among the poorest in the region, but, are also the districts bereft with the practice of killing children born with disabilities, calling them ‘spirit children’. The poverty situation of PWDs, particularly, CWDs, is more severe than their non-disabled colleagues in the same districts. CWDs born into poor families bear the brunt of the poverty of their parents. Such children recycle the family poverty as they are more likely not to have education, have poor health and no skills to earn a living. The KNM has one special school for children with learning disabilities and one integrated special school. However the schools are not well equipped with appropriate necessities such as furniture, adequate trained teachers, adequate TLCs, recreational facilities, etc. The only school for children with special needs (cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, other severe learning disability), the Balobia Special School (known in the community as the school for idiots) which serves the KNM and KNW has no structures. Classes are conducted in the boys’ quarters of the head teacher’s residence. No periodic medical screening is done, in both districts, for early detection of children with disabilities to facilitate early medical attention that could prevent or, at least, reduce the effects of the (potential) disability. Unattended to, and without the necessary support, these children grow without skills to be economically independent and are mostly likely not to be able to give their children an education and so the family poverty cycle continues. In just 12, out of the 63 communities in the KNM alone, we counted 56 out of school CWDs. That gives an average of 5 CWDs per community. If that is multiplied by 63 communities, we have about 294 out of school CWDs in KNM alone, excluding KNW. This is a rough estimation of the magnitude of the problem that confronts us. For all the reasons above, but not exclusively, we are of the conviction that implementing this project in these geographical areas will bring a lot of relief to CWDs and their parents, preparing them for meaningful adulthood.
What specific change is this initiative intended to achieve? What is the anticipated impact of the project on the lives of the beneficiaries? Approximately how many people will benefit directly?
In the long term the project seeks to ensure that children and youth with disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities (cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism) can live a life of dignity and self worth. Contributing to this, in the coming two years, the purpose of this project is (1) to improve enrolment and attendance rates of the Balobia Special School from current 13 to 65 and other ensure 55 other CWDs are enrolled in other schools, bringing the total to 120. We seek to achieve this by (1a) supporting the Balobia Special school with a borehole, in a township with perennial water shortage. The borehole will provide potable water supply all year round for drinking, cooking and other in house purposes. It will also be used to cultivate a dry season vegetable garden, ensuring adequate and regular supply of fresh vegetables all year round. (1b) Support the school with a poultry project. The poultry project will supply fresh table eggs and chicken for the kitchen. The poultry and garden will ensure availability of, at least, one quality meal a day for the children while in school, hence, improving their nutritional status. By this we will be responding to the call by SDG 2 to ‘reduce/end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition…..”. Extra vegetables, eggs and fowls will be sold to generate income to meet the cost of veterinary services (from year 2 onwards) and to augment the school’s budget for other food and soup items. Regular provision of food will incentivize parents to enroll their children in school. The poultry and garden will also be used to provide training so the children can have productive skills for future income generation, after school. This will facilitate a smooth transition to adulthood resulting in a dignified and independent adult life. This assurance of their disabled and, hitherto, written off children, having a bright future will greatly incentivize parents to enroll and retain their children in school. In all this, we will also be contributing to the nation’s effort to achieve SDG 8 “…aspire for sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full productive employment and decent work for all”
The Balobia Special School is the only public school for children with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism and general learning disabilities. Though the population of children with learning disabilities in the 2 districts is high (preliminary put the number in the KNM alone at approximately 300), enrolment in the school is low due to the proximity of the school from the various homes. Having to carry/walk their children to and from school, daily, over long distances has been a disincentive for parents to enroll their children in school. Hence, we will (1c) Support the school with a 30-seater bus. Provision of a school bus will be an additional incentive for parents to enroll their children in school and will further result in improved enrolment. Availability of means of transport, coupled with the provision of (a) and (b) above will drastically improve enrollment and facilitate regular and timely school attendance. (d) Partner with the Ghana Education Service to embark on an aggressive enrollment drive. This will be done in communities and on radio. Once enrolled in school, children with cerebral palsy, autism, Down Syndrome, etc, who were totally dependent on others for virtually everything, are able to self feed, bath/dress, respond to nature’s call and clean themselves, etc, within a few months, after being taken through life skills sessions. This brings them self fulfillment and also great relief to parents/caregivers.
(2) Embark on advocacy and awareness creation among the various stakeholders and duty bearers. We will embark on public awareness and sensitization for an end to the practice of killing children born with disabilities, culturally labeled ‘spirit children’. Through public education on legal provisions on the rights of children with disabilities parents, communities and the general public will be helped to appreciate the laws that protect the right to life of CWDs and frown on abuse of the human rights of CWDs. Through testimonies from successful local PWDs and films on renowned PWDs in various fields, locally and internationally, and how productive they are to their families and society, parents, traditional authorities and communities will be helped to appreciate how, given the right opportunities and support, CWDs can grow to be useful citizens and contribute to community/national development. This will help break barriers and prejudices resulting in a conducive environment for CWDs in the present and far into the future. By supporting Organizations of Persons With Disabilities (OPWD), at the national level, to strengthen their advocacy and lobbying, the project will push for (2a) the implementation of government’s policy on Inclusive Education (2b) implementation of government policy of regular release of the 3% allocation of the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) OPDWs. (2c) The KNM will also be lobbied to include the Balobia Special School in the government’s Free School Feeding Programme. The GES has already been engaged and has agreed to provide a driver, fuel and trained teachers to the school. Parents of children with disabilities, especially, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and autism and teachers of the Balobia Special School will be given training on how to relate and handle their wards.
Inclusive education in the child’s own environment helps able bodied peers to understand CWDs; it gives the CWDs a sense of belonging, builds their confidence, boosts their self esteem and facilitates social integration and self sufficiency. Inclusive education will also compel schools to modify and diversify their teaching methodologies which may include hands on learning eg drawing, singing, etc, instead of the traditional lectures which do not encourage critical thinking. (2d) To this end we will engage the GES to implement the Inclusive Education Policy directed by the government. Furthermore, we will lobby the GES and DAs to build and upgrade educational facilities that are not disability friendly. Enrolling CWDs in school also frees more time for, mothers in particular, to engage in income generation to improve the family income and enhancing their ability to meet, particularly, the needs of their CWDs. (2e) We will also engage the GHS to carry out periodic screening in schools/communities for early detection and support for potential CWDs. Early screening/diagnosis and intervention will facilitate prevention (degeneration) into severity and help the development of CWDs. (2f) Furthermore, we will build the capacities of Community Development Committees (CDCs) to engage and ensure traditional authorities develop and enforce bylaws on the ban on the killing of ‘spirit children’. A research to be conducted will provide empirical evidence of the magnitude of the problem of disability in terms of numbers and the level of discrimination and suffering of CWDs to facilitate the appropriate design of intervention strategies to address the hardships faced by CWDs. The baseline data will also serve as a benchmark for measuring the success or otherwise of this intervention at the end of the implementation of the project.
Target Group: Direct and Indirect Beneficiaries
- Conduct a baseline survey to empirically ascertain the magnitude the problem
- Conduct workshops for parents/Teachers to equip them with knowledge, skills, tools to enable them support CWDs
- Provide a mechanized borehole for the Balobia Special School
- Support the Balobia Special School to cultivate a vegetable garden
- Support the Balibia Special School to establish a poultry project
- Collaborate with GHS to conduct 6-monthly screening in schools/communities
- Provide the Balobia Special School with a 30-seater school bus
- Carry out community/public sensitization on the rights of CWDs.
- Lobby the KNM to enroll the Balobia Special School on the School Feeding Programme
- Lobby the District Assemblies for timely release of the 3% allocation of the DACF for PWDs
- Engage traditional authorities to develop/enforce bylaws on the ban on the killing of ‘spirit children’
- Support OPWDs, particularly, at the district level to sensitize their members about their rights under the law to strengthen their members to insist on their rights
- Support the Advocate and Lobbying effort of OPWDs at the national level for national implementation of Inclusive education Policy and passing of the LI on Disability Act
- Commemoration of the International Day of PWDs (IDPD), with emphasis on CWDs
Why your organisation is best placed to implement this project. In particular, please provide relevant detail on your organisation’s history and experience in delivering similar projects.
As a social inclusion organization, improving the lives and restoring the lost esteem of vulnerable children/youth and women to reintegrate into the wider society and contribute to the development of their families, communities and the larger society is YA’s niche for the past 16 years. We also have 16 years experience working in rural communities to improve quality of education and health care for children/youth (particularly street and disabled children/youth) and supporting rural women’s income generating activities in our efforts to reduce poverty. Our experienced and committed staffs have gained the knowledge of disability, what problems rural children/ youth and girls/women face, their aspirations and what motivates them, thus, deepening our understanding of the dynamics of their psychology. This understanding of the vulnerability, aspirations and psyche of the marginalized (particularly children with disabilities) and rural communities gives us a comparative advantage. Our skills in facilitation, listening, negotiation and counseling facilitate and enable us to achieve expected results.
We bring to this project a cordial working relationship with CDCs and OPWDs. As in all our projects we also work with the Child protection Network; with representation from the Ghana Education Service (GES), Ghana Health Service (GHS), Judiciary, Commission on Human Rights & Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), District Assemblies (who represent central government at the district level) and other NGOs. This strength, coupled with enormous good will, credibility and rapport with the communities and traditional authority, gives us a comparative advantage in mobilizing both human and material resources to enhance our work. The most recent projects in which this level of collaboration and good will produced enormous results are the “(Quality Health: My Right, My Responsibility”, addressing adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues, co funded by DFID, USAID and DANIDA through STAR Ghana (Feb 2013-Jan 2015) and the “Reducing Violence in schools and at Home” project (Jan 2014-December 2016) aimed at improving enrolment, attendance and learning outcomes, in partnership with the International Children’s Fund (ICT, UK) and by DFID (Evaluation and Best Practices Reports on www.youthaliveghana.org)
Approaching sustainability for this project. How we will ensure the project continues to provide benefit after the period for which funding is sought?
We will work closely with CDCs and the OPWDs. These are local community and district structures respectively. The 25 member CDCs are trained to lead the development agenda of their respective communities. Being development-oriented, working without incentives, appreciating the benefits of girls’ education before marriage, knowing the law, equipped with persuasive communication/negotiation skills, CDCs are poised to effectively engage Traditional Authorities (TAs) and sustain the gains of the project. The OPWDs exist to advocate for the rights of their members ie persons with disabilities. We recognize the lack for resources, especially transportation, and capable staff limit their ability to meet their objectives. This project will assist the OPWDs with tricycles, white canes to facilitate movement for them to be able to meet members in their respective communities. We will also work with the CPN. The CPN, a Youth Alive initiative, have district wide coverage. As government organizations, they will always have presence in the districts/communities long before and after Youth Alive’s entry/exit. The CPN exist to facilitate coordination of activities of government agencies working to promote and protect human rights, particularly child/women’s rights in our districts. They pool together expertise, financial and material resource, ensuring maximum impact and reducing duplication. It also ensures benefits of any YA project are felt beyond the project coverage area. Like CDCs the CPN have no incentives/fuels for facilitating monthly community meetings or visits. CDCs are able to call on the CPN to address their issues or facilitate community meetings on given topics/ government policies. The CPN are also able to request executives of CDCs to mobilize their communities for them to address or carry out any activity. This cordial relationship will facilitate working together to ensure the gains of the project are consolidated over time.
Scaling-Up and Replicability
The project has considerable scale for replication in other communities or on a larger scale, with the cooperation of GES and/or other NGOs, although, as in these project communities, an initial investment would be required for the first few years to build the capacity. There are plans to build the capacities of CDCs and OPWDs in resource mobilization so they can, on their own, seek funding support, especially, locally, to meet their community/wellbeing needs. Once this initial investment is completed, the effect is intended to last beyond the project period and benefit CWDs in these and other schools/communities for many years to come. In addition, the benefits of increased access to education/skills training in the lives of the children directly targeted in this program and their increased self-esteem will benefit them throughout their life, including when they are searching for employment and when they have their own children. Furthermore, by working with schools, the benefits are likely to last for this as well as future students of these schools and teachers. Based on the successful outcome of this project, YA will continue to search for funding to work on similar projects in other vulnerable communities in the Upper East region and expand into the Upper West Regions. YA has offices in both the Upper East and Upper West region and is gradually increasing its capacity to raise funds from local and national sources and will continue the search for such funding independently. The project will also produce baseline data and a lessons learned document which will be shared with other local and national NGOs and local authorities/policy makers which can be used to encourage its replication elsewhere. .
Pupil of Balobia Special School in class