By GYNNIE KERO
Ten-year-old Michael Aisi is a little older than his elementary preparatory classmates but that’s because a regular school refused to enrol him when they discovered he had speech and hearing impediments.
“Some years ago, I tried to enrol my son in a nearby school but they rejected him,” his mother, Rachael Bosei, said.
“They said they couldn’t accept him because of his speech and hearing impairments so I kept him at home for a few years. He could have been in grade 4 by now if he had been allowed to enrol then.” Bosei was devastated by the school’s response then.
She is now a proud mother because her son attends class every day at the regular Salima Elementary School in the Sagarai area of Alotau, Milne Bay, thanks to the intervention by Cheshire DisAbility Services.
The orghanisation is a non-governmental service provider for persons living with disabilities — al through its community-based rehabilitation (CBR) worker Tracey Mwadayana.
Mwadayana, who had been trained by Cheshire DisAbility Services on rehab work, and with the support of Unicef on basic inclusive childhood education, came across Michael through a data-survey exercise she carried out in Sagarai in January last year.
“I am also a village recorder/data collector for my ward which includes two rural villages of Ho-owalai and Ipouli with a population of 1444 people, so it is easy for me to identify and locate people living with disabilities in my community,” she said.
“I look after four wards in my zone. The farthest I go to reach children with disabilities is a six-hour walk in some hard-to-reach areas. Since starting my CBR work in 2015, I’ve found out that there are many people and children living with disabilities in my zone who are desperate for services but cannot access them. My CBR work includes screening, assessing and collecting data on people living with disabilities, door-to-door visits to provide basic stimulation exercises and counselling, providing referrals for people with disabilities who have chronic illnesses to nearby health facilities or the main hospital in town and providing support for children with disabilities to access services.”
When Mwadayana came across Michael, who lives with his mother and two siblings in Gadoalai village — about an hour’s walk from Salima Elementary School — she invited him to her home where she worked with him for several months to prepare him for regular school. That work included letting Michael play with her three children, providing basic stimulation exercises and encouraging him to learn the alphabet.
Mwadayana also trains Michael’s mother how to use readily available material to stimulate Michael through play.
Early this year, Mwadayana and Bosei Michael enroled at Salima Elementary School. His teacher, Gabriella Wawaulo, willingly accepted him into her class.
Wawaulo also had training in inclusive early-childhood education and was determined to teach Michael through sign language.
“As a teacher, it is my responsibility to make sure he gets an education because he has every right to learn,” Wawaulo said. “Michael is very interested in school. He never misses a day. We can see that he is learning and that gives me confidence to continue teaching him.
“He is the first child with a disability to be enrolled here and he has taught me to be patient.”
While Mwadayana is happy to see Michael in school, her work is not over yet. She gets emotional as she describes the plight of children living with disabilities in her ward.
“Children with disabilities here have many issues,” she said.
“Some live too far away from aid posts, and schools which are too far for them to walk to.
“Sometimes health workers overlook their disabilities and don’t refer them to proper service providers. But even for them to get to the service providers is a challenge because transportation is an issue.
“ My hope and dreams for these children is to bring services to them so they can move on. I am confident that there is a way out and I want them to reach the finishing line and that is for them to get somewhere, become someone and at least know how to look after themselves independently.
“That’s my hope and dream.”
By GYNNIE KERO