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Tackling disabilities through ECD centres

Written by  Solister Mogha
Mothers of children with disabilities hope for the better Mothers of children with disabilities hope for the better

Blantyre, December 06, 2018: She was born normally but suffered from epilepsy a week later.

Parents tried hard to get Nesta Frank healed but the problem persisted.

“After a year, she developed weak legs and a feeble backbone. She could neither sit down nor stand up,” says Nesta’s mother Sophia Alidi of Traditional Authority (TA) Malindi in Mangochi District.

“We were so confused because we were already dealing with epilepsy and we couldn’t understand why her legs couldn’t support her.

“We rushed to Malindi Health Centre where doctors recommended that we go to Mangochi District Hospital and meet specialist doctors,” Alidi recounts.

However, Alidi says, her daughter was not given any drugs to heal her weakening legs; instead, doctors only provided the necessary physiotherapy and advised the family to continue visiting the hospital for the therapy.

She adds that they were also encouraged to do local physiotherapy by digging a small pit where to bury the child up to the waist level.

“We were told that she would, with time, develop strong bones and later on, walk. We never believed it,” Ali explains.

At the age of four, Nesta, now 7 could neither walk nor speak. All hopes for change in her life were completely dashed.

In 2016, Nesta’s parents enrolled her at Chindamba Community Based Child Care Centre (CBCCC), a facility mainly run by women in Malindi and offers early childhood development (ECD) services.

ECD is a comprehensive approach to policies and programmes for children from conception to age eight aimed at promoting their survival, growth and development.

It was barely after a year at Chindamba ECD centre that Nesta started to fight her disability.

Alidi says her daughter always imitated her friends and one day she fought a good fight. She stood up and managed to walk.

Today, Nesta can walk, speak and write, thanks to the ECD centre.

“I really appreciate the establishment of the CBCCC; many children are now better than before.

“My appeal to parents who are in a situation like mine is that they should not underrate the power of ECD.

“Through the interaction, children are able to overcome their disabilities and regain their normalcy,” the youthful mother says.

However, Nesta has not started attending primary school because the family cannot raise money for her transport to the nearest school.

“Although she can walk, talk, read and write the nearest primary school is a bit far from here.

“So, we need to have enough money for transport if she is to continue with school,” Ali says, trying to suppress her joy.

Nesta is not the only child who has benefited from the programme. Halifu Duwe, 7, and Talibu Jera, 6, have also responded positively from the time they were placed at Chindamba CBCCC.

The two, who could not walk or stretch their legs, speak and move their heads, are now able to speak, twist their heads once their names are called and, most importantly, respond to reflexes.

“Anyone who is new may not notice the great improvements on the children but for sure, they have responded well to the therapy and they are fighting their disabilities.

“If it was not for this school then, the problem could have worsened,” says Halifu’s mother, Rofina Mbwana.

“The beauty about bringing the children here is that apart from improving their mobility, they are acquiring knowledge which is also very paramount in life,” she adds.

Chindamba CBCCC chairperson Ali Ibrahim notes that this year alone, the centre has enrolled 15 children with different disabilities.

“This centre is assisting a lot in healing children with disabilities and, currently, we have 95 children whom we treat equally,” Ibrahim says.

Ibrahim, therefore, hails Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) for its campaign for children with disabilities in general and for training community care givers in inclusive education, in particular.

Macoha’s Women and Children Programmes Officer Mercy Mpunga appreciates Chindamba CBCCC and other ECD centres’ efforts in addressing issues of children with disabilities.

Mpunga is also heading the Inclusive Early Childhood Development and Education for Children with Disabilities Project.

She says the project focuses on equipping ECD centre care givers and the communities with disability information to ensure provision of good quality services to such children.

“It is pleasing to see that communities have started embracing disability issues especially in ECD centres.

“As an organisation, we will continue supporting ECD centres, especially those with children with disabilities,” Mpunga says.

She further says Macoha plans to train care givers with skills to identify salient disabilities and how to create an amiable environment for children so that they do not feel neglected.

Macoha is implementing the Inclusive Early Childhood Development and Education for Children with Disabilities project with support from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa).

The 2016 Geneva Global Report explicitly indicates that in Malawi, only 27 percent of children have access to ECD services.

Furthermore, the report says most of the preschools are located in urban areas, leaving children in rural areas without access.

But children who have gone through an ECD centre have been rated stars with excellent performance in primary as well as secondary school.

Unlike others, children who have gone through ECD education have little difficulties in writing, reading and speaking as most of the preparatory work is done at an ECD centre.

Apart from improving children performance in class, ECD has proved to be a magic wand to many disabilities in children aged between three and six.

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Public Relations Officer, Lindiwe Chide says government through the Ministry of Gender, Disability, Children and Social Welfare has been implementing ECD services to improve the quality of children’s life.

Chide acknowledges that investing in ECD can reduce or eradicate poverty and says ECD centres lay a strong foundation for optimum development of children which, in turn, prepares them to be socio-economically productive.

“Government recognises the significant role that ECD centres play in moulding infants to be useful participants in the country’s development process through the pillars of survival, growth and development,” Chide says.