Breaking disability barriers on Day of the African Child
15 June 2012: In Togo, children with disabilities are finally being recognised as a real social issue this Day of the African Child, 16 June - thanks to a Plan project.
In Africa, children with physical or mental disabilities have long been stigmatised and destined for a life of begging by families who see them as a source of income.
Village chief Fousseni Adam Alakpa explains: "Within our communities, this issue is a very serious problem - to the extent that a child born with a handicap is considered a divine curse. As a result, these children are often hidden, because you do not want other people to see, and neighbourhood gossip makes the parents of the child uncomfortable."
Plan is educating communities about disabilities and the needs of disabled children through its Restore Children with Disabilities Across Community-based Rehabilitation Approach (RESH) project.
Based in central Togo around Sokodé, the project covers 16 villages in the districts of Tchamba and Sotouboua and has organised a census of children with disabilities to follow their progress and give support. So far over 1,500 children have been identified – including 592 girls.
The project organises children's clubs, workshops for parents, mothers’ and fathers’ clubs and exercise programmes. Teachers work with parents to build awareness and end discrimination between children in classrooms.
Mr Lanwi says: “Before I did not know what to do with my handicapped child. An agent came to my home asking me if I had a handicapped child. I said yes, I did not hide him. He comes every day to check on him and tries to teach him how to walk and live with his situation. At one point they brought braces for his legs. After 2 months I noticed he had begun to walk well.”
As well as providing leg braces and increasing the awareness of parents about using braces, the project has referred several children to the orthopaedic specialist, who also educates parents about exercises to carry out at home.
All children are human beings
Baboïma, a 14-year-old student at the local high school, says: “When the project agents came, they gathered us together, made a plan and increased awareness. In the village people now consider handicapped children to be like able-bodied children. Now parents take their children into care. They bring together able-bodied and handicapped children; they understand that we must love each other and consider all children as human beings.”
The Day of the African Child is celebrated every 16 June to honour the bravery of children who took to Soweto's streets in 1976 to ask for quality education, only to be shot down. This year’s theme is promoting the rights of children with disabilities.
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