Children with disabilities receive rehabilitation to walk and speak, and prepare to go to school
With funding from the Government of Norway, Madagascar has partnered with the Fanarenana association to support families with children with disabilities.
In Madagascar, 10 percent of children between 2-5 years and 14 percent of children between 6-17 years have disabilities. Stigma against children with disabilities is widespread.
“In the community, my daughter is laughed at, and it makes me so sad”, says the mother of a girl with a disability “In the school, other children bullied Natasha for not being able to speak.”
In Madagascar, the system for early screening to identify children with disabilities and referral to services is not yet sufficiently developed. Some midwives and doctors guide parents of children with disabilities to take their children to Fanarenana.
“When my son could not walk or speak at more than two years of age, I thought it was because of my difficult birth. I heard about this organization and brought my son here. After some time, he started to speak. For the first time, he called me Mom,” recalled another mother.
Fanarenana has a multidisciplinary team of health, education, social workers, psychologists, orthopedists, and physiotherapists. They screen the children to assess their individual needs. The majority of children who come to Fanarenana have cerebral palsy.
“My son could not speak, walk, hold his head, he did not respond when called. After bringing him to Fanarenana, he started to hold his head and sit up, and now he can walk and speak. I used to stay up very late because I helped my son with gymnastics exercises but now I can sleep much earlier. I do my best for his education. He can now hold a pen and write. My hope is that when he grows up, he will be able to do some handicraft,” said the father of one child.
Caregivers are learning how to advance their children’s development, including learning about feeding practices and what a balanced diet is.
“I can put a bowl of rice in front of her and she can now hold a spoon and feed herself. She has also learned to say no,” said another mother.
The children also receive assistive devices like wheelchairs. There is no national health insurance scheme to support families to access health care and rehabilitation services, and no social protection scheme to support families with the additional costs related to disability, including transportation and assistive devices.
Children attend classes at Fanarenana to prepare them for school. They have either dropped out of school or been told the school will not take them.
“Teachers stigmatized my nephew and did not want to provide any support to him. We pay school fees, but there is no support. The public school did not accept him and the private school advised us to give up on the child. The other children bullied him and their parents did not scold them,” said the uncle of a boy.
Fanarenana only has the capacity to provide learning support to 7-8 children every day. 40 children are on a waiting list. With support from UNICEF Madagascar, Fanarenana also works with the Ministry of Education and the National Platform for Inclusive Education to give advice to teachers to adapt their pedagogy.
UNICEF’s partnership with Fanarenana is having a significant impact on the families the organization is supporting. However, much more needs to be done to establish services across the country. UNICEF Madagascar continues to work with the government, including through the National Platform for Inclusive Education, to achieve sustainable systemic change to fulfill the rights of every child.