On Top of The World: The story of Millah

Under the 1in11 partnership, madrasas in Central Java are making inclusive education a reality for students with disabilities

Millah and her mother Wida at home.
14 August 2020

UNGARAN, Indonesia – Her right hand grasped the wooden handrail tightly as she put her left hand lower on the spindle of the staircase. When she managed to put both her legs on the first tread, Millah turned back and smiled.

Her mother Wida smiled back at her oldest daughter, masking pride and just a hint of concern. The mother of two looked at her husband Puji, who sat quite far, and she could see the same pride and anxiety reflected in his eyes. They both kept watching Millah until their 12-year-old daughter was able to step onto the top tread.

When Millah was 4, Wida and Puji realized that she moved slower than most children her age. They brought Millah to a psychologist who diagnosed her with an intellectual disability with an IQ score lower than the average.

It takes extra time for Millah to take in and be comfortable with her surroundings. She used to fear stairs and needed help to climb up and down. Her fine motoric development has been progressing slower than her peers. It took more time for Millah to be able to firmly grip her pencil.

Puji and Wida initially thought of sending her to a special needs school. But after reflecting on her character, they changed their minds.

“Millah likes to imitate people around her,” Puji said. “I want her to learn from other children her age, not just children that have similar conditions as her.”

Puji and Wida decided to send Millah to Madrasah Ibtidaiyah Keji (MI Keji) in Ungaran, Central Java Province. In 2017, this madrasa (Islamic school) became one of the pilot madrasas in Central Java that championed inclusive education under the 1in11 partnership. The collaboration between the Government of Indonesia, UNICEF and Lembaga Pendidikan Maarif Nahdlatul Ulama (LP Maarif NU) is supported by Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

“We are now hosting 25 children with disabilities,” said Ika Setiyawati, one of the teachers at MI Keji who is also the appointed manager for inclusive education in the madrasa.

In MI Keji, 17 out of 18 teachers have been trained in LP Maarif NU’s inclusive madrasa development module, which includes an adaptation of FutbolNET [1], an inclusive sports-based module developed by the FC Barcelona Foundation.

“[The programme] has provided opportunities for us to join various trainings and workshops related to inclusive education,” explained Ika. “It helped us learn basic skills, such as conducting an assessment [of a student’s learning needs], as well as more advanced skills, like how to develop individual learning programmes and adapt [classroom] learning activities for children with disabilities.”

Millah and other children with disabilities in MI Keji have been actively participating in various learning activities at school, including physical education. Millah’s skills in reading and writing have vastly improved. Sitting in the 4th Grade this year, Millah has little hesitation to speak her mind.

“I can see clearly that she’s became quite critical. She will state her opinions on any issue. I would know, I have to deal with that every day,” said Wida, holding her laughter.

Another visible area of progress is Millah’s ability to interact in a positive manner with her peers. She and her cousins play together every afternoon, riding bicycles or playing with dolls. Millah even helps her family at their shop, exchanging products and money confidently, often with strangers.

[1] The FutbolNET module was developed by the Futbol Club Barcelona Foundation and uses sports as a vehicle to transmit positive values and to promote social and educational development. It explores five values through sports: humility, effort, ambition, respect and teamwork. For its implementation in Indonesia, the module is specifically designed for an Inclusive Education setting. For more information on FutbolNET, please see the following link: https://foundation.fcbarcelona.com/programes/fair-football

Millah and her friends racing their bicycles.
Millah and her friends racing their bicycles.
Millah helping her parents in their store.
Millah helps her parents in their store.

Millah wants to be a doctor. In the past, Wida and Puji did not believe this was realistic. But seeing their daughter now, at the top of the staircase on her own, Puji cannot help but feel hopeful.

“My dream is for her to grow independent and give significant contributions to society,” he said fondly.

“That is exactly what we aim for through the Inclusive Education programme here in MI Keji,” Ika responded. She and her team wish for the programme to be sustainable and further expanded. “Our teachers and school communities are prepared to improve our services to all children in school.” Ika would like to see more improvement in the capacity development and appreciation of the teachers. “Support us teachers so that we can support the children,” she said.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Millah, Wida, Puji and Ika left a growing hope about the tireless and collaborative efforts to ensure the fulfilment of rights for children like Millah, as they climb to the top of the world.

Millah playing with her cousin at home.
Millah plays with her cousin at home. She dreams of becoming a doctor.