Inclusive education and a wheelchair gave Simon, 24, a second chance at school

Simon Peter has returned to class after schools gradually reopened in Kenya's refugee settlements. Photo: Finn Church Aid
Simon Peter has returned to class after schools gradually reopened in Kenya's refugee settlements. Photo: Finn Church Aid

South Sudanese Simon Peter was out of school for long because he could not reach the classroom. An inclusive education project in Kakuma refugee camp brought him a new chance while teaching teachers and parents how to support persons with disabilities.

Simon Peter is 24 years old but is only in primary class 3. He enrolled in school for the first time ten years earlier after growing up in a rural area of South Sudan. Before that, schools were located too far for him.

Simon was born with hemiplegia. Hemi means “half” and hemiplegia refers to the paralysis of half of the body. He had no wheelchair to help him reach a school. His chance to join school came only when his family moved to a city.

“I never got a chance to socialize and play with other children. I was indoors most of the time”, Simon describes his childhood.

Shortly after Simon started his education, South Sudan slid into a civil war that disrupted his learning. It took a long time before he could enrol again, this time in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Finn Church Aid’s project for supporting special needs education issued him with a wheelchair to help him reach the school.

Simon’s guardian Mark Loyiel is grateful for the opportunity for Simon to catch up with education.

“I used to carry him wherever he needed to go. It is a relief that I can wheel him to school, and he manages the school day by himself while I report to other duties. Then I pick him up after the classes”, he says.

Inclusive education and learning environment

Finn Church Aid’s special needs education project benefits 275 children and youth with disabilities that live in the refugee camp in Kenya. The project has also trained 69 teachers on inclusive education that bridges the language barriers of refugee learners and prepares teachers to meet the needs of learners with disabilities. The support to the learners also includes wheelchairs, stationaries, textbooks, school uniforms and food.

Ensuring an inclusive learning environment also requires construction work. The project has built disability-friendly classrooms and pit latrines in all the primary schools and Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) centres in Kalobeyei settlement, a part of Kakuma refugee camp.

When Kenya ordered schools to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic, FCA distributed solar-powered radios to enable Simon and other persons with disabilities to participate in radio lectures. Teachers have complemented broadcasts with home visits and by following up on the homework of learners.

Parents and guardians actively involved in their children’s education

The project has actively involved parents and guardians of children with disabilities in supporting the special needs education, says Simon’s guardian Mark Loyiel. Mark is also happy that the schools include those with disabilities in physical activities, such as ball games.  Before the pandemic, they were all cheering in inter-village competitions for learners – with or without disabilities, playing together as one family.

Mark is particularly grateful for the psychosocial support that goes with the project. The staff of FCA visit their home to engage with the family and build a stronger understanding of persons with disabilities.

“We have found new aspects of understanding and respect for Simon’s personality and dignity. Persons with disabilities are not a burden – they are unique human beings like anyone”, he says.

“The home visits of the staff make us feel like we are one family to them.”

Simon Peter has grown much and describes himself as very peaceful. He dreams of becoming a teacher for primary class 1 and wants to teach mathematics and science to children with disabilities.

“I want to give back for the support I have received, and I feel that I know from experience what children with disabilities need when they grow up.”

Text: Elizabeth Oriedi