From curse to catfish: West Africa schools tackle stigma of disability

Wed Dec 2, 2015 12:21am EST
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By Kieran Guilbert

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Working quietly in a classroom at a primary school in Dakar, nine-year-old blind boy Abdoulaye sits next to the star pupils, who watch and help him, and alert the teacher if he struggles.

Even when the lesson ends and children spill into the dusty yard, gossiping and guzzling down water, a few stay behind with Abdoulaye as he slides the final Braille blocks into place.

"At first there were worries and fears, it was an innovation to have all the children together in one class," said teacher Mbaye Sow. "But when you see disabled children coming out of their shell, working and playing with others - it is joyful."

Among those singing, dancing and chasing one another around the yard of L'Ecole Malick Diop in Senegal's capital, blind and visually impaired children walk hand-in-hand with their peers in a country where disabilities are widely considered a curse.

Malick Diop is one of a growing number of inclusive education schools, where children with and without disabilities learn together in the same class, in Senegal and West Africa, a region where as few as one in 20 disabled children go to school.

Children with disabilities in West Africa are often hidden at home or sent to beg in the streets by parents who deem them cursed, worthless and incapable of succeeding at school.

This exclusion leaves disabled children at even greater risk of abuse and violence - some are raped, killed by their parents or even ritually sacrificed by secret societies, activists say.

Organizations such as Sightsavers and Handicap International have been working with the Senegalese government since 2008 to train teachers, persuade parents of the benefits of inclusive education and tackle stigma and discrimination in communities.   Continued...