Children with disabilities in Malawi are often discriminated against and denied access to an education. The SOS School in Lilongwe, Malawi, incorporates a special needs school, which teaches, nurtures and encourages 120 children with disabilities. James* is one of the students at the school, who has made tremendous progress to overcome his physical and learning disabilities.

Due to discrimination, people with disabilities are among the most poor and vulnerable people in Malawi. In Africa, as a whole, fewer than 10% of children with disabilities are in school. The SOS Primary School in Lilongwe, Malawi provides an education to over 500 children. The school was designed to be able to offer an education for all children, regardless of ability. The classrooms are wheelchair friendly and by integrating all children in the same building, it is hoped that children with disabilities will become more accepted by their peers.

The school offers extra tuition for children with mild learning disabilities in addition to their normal classes. For 120 children with more severe disabilities, a special needs unit offers tailored classes, including teaching sign language and lip reading for children with hearing disabilities. Classes also include ‘life skills’, teaching children skills which might come easier for others, such as how to get dressed or how to feed themselves, to support them to become as independent as possible.

James’ Story

When he first came to SOS Children’s Village Lilongwe, James struggled to cope with his mental and physical disabilities. However, with the love and care of his SOS mother, occupational therapists and the guidance and patience of his teachers, he has made remarkable progress.

James attends the SOS Primary School in Malawi, participating in mainstream classes as well as tailored special needs sessions. He uses a frame to walk with and can reach a fast pace, which makes him very happy! Academically, James can now construct meaningful sentences, and is also able to present a logical argument and communicate verbally.

However, one problem which James could not overcome was the ability to hold a pen or a pencil to write. He was also unable to recognize letters so could not start to learn to read. His occupational therapist recommended that James might manage if he had access to a computer with some special software.

When the computer arrived, James was beside himself with excitement. His computer lessons started in October. Programmes teach him maths and language skills. Symbols are placed next to a figure so that the learner knows the number of things each figure stands for. For example, next to the number two, two animals are placed so that learner will know that ’2? stands for two things.

Since his lessons began, James has learnt to write his name, solve some mathematical problems and write the alphabet. He says: ”I am very happy that I have this computer. I have improved at school. That is why I passed my exams last year.” *For privacy reasons, we have changed the name.

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