Why Nurdin is determined to learn
13-year-old Nurdin loves going to school and playing sports with his friends. But when he was younger, school didn’t seem like a possibility.
Nurdin has both a physical and speech disability. He lives in Tanzania with his mother and sister. His father passed away when he was young, and his mother works to support the family.
He was keen to start going to school, but his family were reluctant to send him. They weren't sure if the learning environment would be supportive and if he would cope in the classroom. And since he would need transport to school, this would be another expense for the family.
The challenges of finding a supportive school
Nurdin was determined and tried out a couple of schools. But one school in the area told his mother that they couldn't accommodate children with disabilities. At another school, a lack of understanding about inclusive education meant Nurdin was not supported in class. This meant he was unable to progress through the school years with his peers.
"My life before the (inclusive education) project was so tough and very difficult to explain," Nurdin said. "I was taken to school and forced to remain in the same class every year, which embarrassed me because all my friends were progressing to higher classes. My family decided that I quit school and opt to stay at home."
Joining our inclusive education programme
Things changed after Nurdin was identified by Tanzania Cheshire Foundation (TCF), to be involved in our inclusive education programme.
For the past four years, we have been working in partnership with TCF to support 1,000 children with disabilities across 20 schools in Dodoma and Camwino districts, with funding from Comic Relief. The project aimed to help children access education and also improve their learning experience while at school.
How we made school accessible for Nurdin
We focus on a holistic whole school approach. This includes training teachers in inclusive practices and ensuring school environments are accessible. As well as changing the school and communities' attitudes towards disability.
Previously, accessibility had been a challenge for Nurdin at school. So ramps were constructed to improve accessibility to the classrooms and the teacher’s office.
“I am so happy for the ramps in our school especially those constructed in my classroom,” explained Nurdin. “I can now access my classroom easier, for example, Bajaj could take me up to the ramps. This was not the case before where I had to wait for others to carry me to the classrooms, which was not so easy because sometimes I could get injured or my feet could get numb.”
How we promoted inclusion
Child-to-child clubs have been another great addition to the school. The clubs are attended by children with and without disabilities. They’ve been a great way for Nurdin and the other children to get to know one another. And they’re also an opportunity to play games and sports together!
Before the project, Nurdin noticed that other children had misconceptions about disability.
"Discrimination and stigmatization are among the things which hurt me most. Sometimes few children refuse to play with me, but I know I can catch the ball,” he explained. “The same problem is also experienced by my other friend who has visual impairment. Few children would refuse to play with us, probably they think we have a disease which can be transmitted to them. I think all of them need to be aware that this is not a disease that will affect them."
The child-to-child clubs foster a great environment for children to learn about the importance of disability rights and breakdown barriers about disability.
Looking to the future
"The project was so helpful to me. I got uniforms, pencil, exercise books and medical jacket that helps me to balance while walking to school or anywhere. I can now go to school and learn with others,” he said. “I can also move on from one class to another. Not only that but I can also participate happily in games and sports with my friends!"
And Nurdin also has access to additional support at home through project volunteers. The volunteers received training in inclusive education and they are a great bridge between the community and school.
Nurdin is a bright and positive student. He now hopes to carry on his studies and become a doctor.
The remaining challenges
While the project has made great improvements to the school and to Nurdin’s education, there are still some challenges. The toilets are difficult to access for some of the children with disabilities. And transport to the school can be very expensive. This can affect the likelihood of some children with disabilities being able to attend on a regular basis.
Collaboration with government is key to helping overcome these issues. Access to sanitation and hygiene is a basic human right. Our project team has been working closely with the government of Tanzania to encourage them to put measures in place so that more children with disabilities are able to attend mainstream schools.
But there’s more to be done. And governments have a responsibility to ensure that every school environment has accessible facilities. As well as the means to get to school in the first place.