Alain was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After managing Handicap International’s inclusive education project for nearly three years, from 2008 to 2011, Alain now works as an operational project coordinator in the DRC. Here, he recalls his experiences and talks about the organisation’s work in aid of children with disabilities.
Alain’s experience of disability issues began at home, when his sister developed a physical impairment after falling ill and failing to receive adequate treatment. “She doesn’t need a wheelchair or even crutches to move around, but she has a slight limp which has changed the way the community sees her,” he explains. “I was struck by the extent to which her life took a totally different direction due to her disability. She wasn’t able to choose her work and she was quickly pushed towards sewing.”
In 2008, Alain decided to work with Handicap International to help change the way people see disability. For three years, he managed the inclusive education project set up by the organisation in 2007 in schools in the province of Kinshasa. Building on this pilot project, the organisation established a number of best practices and promoted the case-management of children with disabilities in the education system.
“School heads, teachers and the parents of children with disabilities, their school friends and the children with disabilities themselves learn that a disability does not prevent a child from studying, playing with other children or taking part in the community in general. Teachers in the schools we work with are taught to case-manage children with disabilities. Our role is then to inform the parents of these children that there are schools where they can learn alongside children without disabilities.
Children are taught that their disabled friends are no different from them and that their disability is not a reason to reject them. Most of the time, all it takes is a few simple explanations from us to change their attitude. It’s great to see just how receptive children are to Handicap International’s messages and to see children with and without disabilities form friendships and help each other out. They bring them home after school and walk with them to school in the morning, for example. And if a child with disabilities is absent, it’s often their friends who are the first to worry about them,” says Alain. At the same time, efforts are being made to adapt school facilities to the needs of children with disabilities, by installing ramps, lowering the level of boards in classrooms, adjusting toilets, etc.).
However, Handicap International realises that the whole system needs to change and the organisation is working with the country’s institutions, including the Ministry of Education to this end. “A huge step forward has already been taken in terms of legislation. Thanks to the joint efforts of Handicap International and UNESCO, the framework law on education in the RDC at last recognises that children with disabilities can study with other children.”
Three years ago, the results of the inclusive education project were judged to be positive and applicable in new schools. “It was extremely satisfying to see it applied in 12 new schools in the province of Kinshasa. My father is a teacher and he passed on his enthusiasm for working with children to me. I am proud of the contribution I have made to ensuring education is accessible to all, and that schools are also places where children learn to live together, to be more tolerant and more open. It’s a wonderful initiative.”
Interview conducted on 19 March 2012