Ensuring Equal Education for the Disabled
by Bronwyn Curran
BAI BAJNA VILLAGE, Mansehra: Before the October 2005 earthquake, Zahid Humayun didn’t let his polio affliction stop him going to school. But his attendance was irregular. The 12-year-old used to crawl to school on his hands, dragging his withered legs along the village’s dirt trails.
UNICEF and partner agencies found Zahid in Bai Bajna, a wheat and maize farming village in the mountains of Mansehra district, one of the areas devastated by the earthquake.
UNICEF gave Zahid a school kit including a satchel and stationary materials. Save The Children gave him a wheelchair. With his access to school significantly improved, Zahid now attends classes every day
“It’s easy for me to get to school now. It’s a whole new situation. It’s a joy going to class and it’s fun being among friends,” Zahid says.
“The best thing is my trousers aren’t being worn out any more by crawling,” he smiles, pointing to a pair of unblemished trousers.
Zahid is attending the Bai Bajna Government Girls Primary School. It’s closer to home than the boys school. As in many rural girls schools, several boys are on the class roll.
He is top of his class. He came first in end-of-year exams for the fourth grade before the summer break.
“Maths is my favourite subject,” he says.
A major UNICEF commitment in its long-term rehabilitation and recovery plan for areas affected by the earthquake is to ensure equal access to education and other mainstream services for all children, regardless of disability, gender or poverty.
UNICEF’s education recovery program aims to enrol in school for the first time 30 percent of children who never went to school. Fifty-three percent of children aged 5 to 9 across North West Frontier Province did not attend school before the earthquake. They fall into three broad categories: girls; families marginalized by extreme poverty; and the disabled.
“A key part of our strategy is to identify, with the community’s help, children who are not attending school regularly because of disabilities. We will assist the community to help bring those children formally into school,” said UNICEF Education Officer Hugh Delaney.
“We’re working to raise awareness within these communities of the importance of ensuring that all children, regardless of disability, attend school”, said UNICEF Education Officer Hugh Delaney.UNICEF is also working with partner NGOs to ensure future schools are disabled-friendly, for example by installing wheelchair ramps.
Zahid meanwhile is not letting the absence of ramps at the Bai Bajna Government Girls’ Primary School curb his education dreams.
“When I finish primary school I want go on to middle school, and on to high school,” he declares.
Asked if he will go on to university, a rarity for children from farming belt hamlets like Bai Bajna, Zahid blushes.
But he has a clear ambition beyond his own education.
“I want to teach,” he says. “I’d like to be a teacher in this village.”