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Uneven surfaces at Lwendulu Primary school in Hwange makes driving a wheelchair difficult for children living with disabilities. Image by Calvin Manika, March 2023
The Girls Way of Life Charitable Trust has established an inclusive school in Matabeleland North to provide education for disabled children who face significant barriers to accessing education due to inadequate infrastructure and resources.
This story is part of a reporting series supported by the Pulitzer Centre.
HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Every morning, a parent in Hwange, Matabeleland North faces a difficult decision: whether to send her nine-year-old son with a disability to school, or to keep him at home where she knows he will be safe.
Disabled students in Hwange, Matabeleland North, face significant barriers to accessing education, as local schools lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to meet their special needs.
As part of its ten-story reporting series titled “State of Education in Matabeleland,” The Citizen Bulletin has uncovered various challenges that plague communities in Matabeleland, including poor infrastructure, remote schools, and a shortage of teachers.
A 2017 UNICEF report highlights that children with disabilities in Zimbabwe have difficulty accessing education, with only 48% of them attending primary school compared to 77% of children without disabilities. The report identifies a lack of resources, trained teachers, and accessible infrastructure as key factors hindering the effective support of the learning needs of children with disabilities in Zimbabwean schools.
Tracy Ncube, the mother of a child with special needs, says that the lack of support for disabled students in Matabeleland North schools has caused her son psychological trauma and hindered his ability to learn.
“It's unfortunate that our kids have to experience all of this. I worry about him when I leave him at school,” Ncube says.
“The biggest challenge is that where he learns, there are no ramps or disability friendly facilities. He will be at the mercy of other children.”
Zimbabwe's current administration says its 2030 agenda for sustainable development is aimed at, among other things, ensuring that previously marginalised and vulnerable groups such as the disabled are included in the development process.
Despite the government's stated commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in Zimbabwe, communities like Hwange have yet to see tangible progress in launching projects that address these issues.
Plaxedes Yeyani Ndlovu, a former Catholic nun, recognized the need for better education opportunities for disabled students in Hwange District and established a school in 2022 to address this problem. Using her own savings, Ndlovu covers the rent for a house in the City of Victoria Falls that serves as the school's current location.
Ndlovu established the Girls Way of Life Charitable Trust to promote educational equity in the Hwange region, and the Trust now operates the school she founded.
“Our school offers nursery, primary, secondary, and tertiary education for disabled children, with plans to expand to other vulnerable groups.”
Plaxedes Yeyani Ndlovu, a former Catholic nun
According to Ndlovu, the school has created a supportive and inclusive learning environment for pupils with special needs since its launch a year ago. To accommodate a larger student body and staff, Ndlovu plans to construct a fully-fledged school on a larger plot of land, capable of accommodating up to 600 people.
However, Ndlovu is cautious about disclosing further details, including the project's cost, as she fears potential external interference with her plans.
Ndlovu established the school after observing that existing public facilities lacked adequate accommodations for disabled students, including ramps and other accessibility features.
Despite the success of her initiative thus far, Ndlovu has not received any support from the central government, which has failed in its public service role to promote educational equity.
Toilets at Coalfields Primary school are not user friendly for children living with disability. Image by Calvin Manika, March 2023
Experts in child rights have identified inadequate human, financial, and physical resources, as well as a lack of infrastructure, as the primary obstacles to inclusive education for disabled students in Matabeleland North, resulting in a shortage of appropriate special needs facilities and programs.
“It is regrettable that the government does not treat this matter seriously enough,” says child rights advocate Primrose Muzamba.
“As a nation, we must have at least one primary and secondary special education school in every district for children with disabilities.”
Primrose Muzamba, child rights advocate
According to Sharon Jacob, a human rights advocate for children with disabilities, Zimbabwe faces significant barriers to achieving inclusive education.
“Particular challenges that are faced by children with disabilities in accessing inclusive education are socio-economic, inadequate learning centres, inadequate transport services, general family poverty, the HIV and AIDS burden and the stigma associated with disability,” Jacob, who is also the Chairperson of the Federation of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe in Matabeleland North, says.
While there are a few schools in Zimbabwe that cater to children with disabilities, including King George VI school in Bulawayo, Danhiko Centre, and Emerald Schools for the Deaf in Harare, the Girls Path of Life Charity Trust academic institution is the first school in Matabeleland North specifically designed to provide education for children with disabilities.
Parents in the Hwange area now have the option for their children to attend a special needs school.
“Our children have faced various challenges in local schools, from discrimination to poor infrastructure. But now they have found a home and their academic performance is improving.” says Melody Ndlovu, a resident in Chinotimba, Victoria Falls.
Despite facing challenges due to a shortage of resources, Ndlovu remains determined to expand the school project beyond its current scope. She is currently funding operations at the school single-handedly, but is leveraging her early success and lessons learned to drive further growth.
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