Supporting children with disabilities to attend school – Celebrate International Day of People with Disabilities 2018

Read the story of positive change and brighting future of Yai, a girl with physical impairment who received support from BEQUAL empowering her to attend primary school like other children in her village.

3rd December is the International Day of People with Disabilities. This year, the United Nations’ theme focuses on empowering persons with disabilities for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In recent years, Laos has been making significant improvement on social inclusion and support for persons a with disability. It is more widely recognised that people with disabilities must be able to realise their basic human rights. People with disabilities are encouraged to play representative, leadership and advocacy roles not only nationally, but also at regional and international levels. For example, recently Laos has just won its first gold medal in weight lifting in Asian Para-Games - which is the official games for Asian athletes with disabilities, organised in October this year.

Towards an education system that is more inclusive of children with disabilities, the BEQUAL program is delighted to implementing activities that will increase access to and participation in primary schools through the BEQUAL NGO Consortium: Plan International, ChildFund, Save the Children and World Vision.  The NGO project has been working to ensure that all children, particularly children who cannot read and speak Lao language, girls and children with disabilities, in 171 disadvantaged schools enroll in and complete quality primary education with support from their parents and communities.

To celebrate the International Day of People with Disabilities, we would like to share with you the case of Yai, a girl who received support from the NGO project in Khammoane.

Xorkthang is a rural village community of Phou Thai ethnicity in Xaybouathong district, Khammouane. The local primary school has around 100 children studying across Grade 1 to Grade 5. It is one of 22 BEQUAL target villages in the district which is implementing activities to improve access and participation of children in education, with a special focus on children with disabilities.

Yai is a seven year old girl who enrolled at Xorkthang Primary School last year and is now studying in Grade 2. She is the eldest of three sisters and her parents are rice farmers. She is very close to her grandmother, who lives in the same village. The sisters frequently spend time at her house.

Yai has a moderate physical impairment due to cerebral palsy, which means she walks awkwardly. She found it difficult to hold a pencil for very long and she was shy around strangers. Starting school meant walking 3 km with her classmates each morning, though she found it was too far for her to walk home at lunchtime and back in time for afternoon lessons. Therefore, Yai took her lunch to school – some days her grandmother would go to the school to eat together.

At the start of school year, the teachers from Xorkthang Primary School participated in a five-day training workshop on disability inclusive education organized by the BEQUAL project for the teachers. When Yai started school, her teacher Mr. Bounthavanh recognised that she needed additional support, so she developed an Inclusive Education Plan (IEP) to help her learning. As Yai found it difficult at first to hold a pencil, Mr Bounthavanh made a special pencil grip for her, just as he had seen from demonstration at the workshop. In January,  Yai’s teacher and grandmother joined a 2-day event where they received further coaching on teaching aids and approaches which can support her at school and at home. When a medical team came to Xorkthang village in February, Yai and her grandmother met with a doctor who show them physiotherapy exercises to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. The BEQUAL project has also provided her with a bicycle, so that she can get to and from school more conveniently.

Now Yai enjoys going to school with her friends every day. She especially likes lessons when she can draw pictures. She is also a member of the children’s reading group which meets in her village every Wednesday afternoon, where she joins in enthusiastically with the songs, games and story time. The project has better equipped Yai’s family, teachers and community to help her reach her full potential, regardless of disability.

In respect of DFAT’s Child Protection guidelines, names of children have been changed to protect their identity