Disability Africa is currently running a campaign to raise £8,000 for a unique playground. The playground is specially designed to offer a wide range of exciting challenges to disabled children at our newly built Inclusion Centre in The Gambia – and we need your help…
There are many disabled children across Africa – often they are locked away in their own homes with no chance of making friends or going to school. More often than not, they are kept isolated in their houses with very little social interaction, no healthcare – they are often even deprived of food. We know that this must change. That is why we are building this unique playground which will allow us to bring disabled children out of isolation to enjoy play in a safe inclusive environment which will radically change their life experience.
All children love to play and playschemes provide an opportunity for children to learn through fun. In turn, this improves their communication skills, coordination, helps them make friends and it helps parents and other family members begin to change their expectations of their children.
But, most importantly, it changes negative attitudes. Members of the community get to know and work with disabled children – this positive experience changes their views on disability, removing stigma and creating a generation without prejudice. This means that disabled children will no longer be isolated, they will be a part of their community.
The playground specifically helps disabled children develop strength, physical coordination and social skills in a really fun environment.
We are going to build a 1.9m high play structure, accessible to wheelchair users so that disabled children – many of whom don’t get the opportunity to experience the excitement of heights – can play and make friends.
The ‘tight-rope’ and ‘wobbly’ bridges help disabled children improve their walking; the circuit encourages children to play ‘chasing’ and group games, which develop their communication and social skills.
The playground will also include a double-width seesaw and a ‘birds-nest’ swing for children who need extra support or struggle to sit up.
We will also provide a huge range of toys and other play materials. This will included a range of trikes and bikes which are adapted to allow two children to ride together. This naturally encourages children to support each other and share play experiences. This is the best way for children to get to know and understand one another.
With your help we can transform disabled children’s lives for the better, breaking down stigma and encouraging a new way of Inclusive thinking, while the children develop the essential basic skills for adulthood.
Building of the Inclusion Centre started in 2014 and construction is now in the final stages – we expect to be open late in 2015. The photo below shows the intricate and interesting construction of the buildings, with wide, rounded roofs to provide shelter from both sun and rain. The walkways and outdoor areas will be paved and accessible for children, staff and visitors.
The size and unusual construction is already causing much comment in the village and more and more people are becoming aware of the project simply because this building is so striking. It gives a very clear message to the community, “This is how highly we regard disabled young people; these are the facilities and care which they deserve.”
In the last year, we have successfully established the much-needed Medical Support Programme and our Finding 500 Programme, with co-ordinators in post actively working in the community; these programmes are foundation stones for future project developments.
The three permanent project staff have already set up their office in the new Inclusion Centre
The Play Scheme will move to the new Centre when ready and will boast some exciting features – a fully accessible play-ground, with locally crafted adventure play fixtures.
Such features are equally important not just for play but also for sensory and mobility stimulation, physiotherapy and healthy exercise; remembering that for many of our children this is their first and only experience of play, it offers vital contact and support to both children and families.
Home visits are also taking place with a team of volunteers going round to individual children within their compounds.
The two foundation programmes of the Inclusion Project are the Medical Support programme and Finding 500; both are inter-dependent and crucial to the lives of the children and families and to the successful outcomes of our work. With full-time dedicated staff each programme has continued to grow.
We recently employed Mr Saidy as our Medical Support Co-ordinator, to ensure children & families get the best possible care and support- he is already making progress in connecting with families and we are now supporting over 40 children. Our partnership with the AfricMed clinic means we can access specialist medical and surgical care at ‘NGO rates’ and can therefore offer medical care to the children FREE at the point of delivery. With much improved facilities at the new Centre, including a purpose-built Physiotherapy workshop, we will shortly be able to offer a wider range of medical & healthcare support.
The photos below are of Buba*, 5 years old, having treatment at the AfricMed Clinic. His right foot was amputated after traditional ‘treatment’ led to gangrene and long-term infection. What a fabulous smile he has in spite of his long-term ‘disability’ and the pain he must have suffered.
Thankfully, he is now mobile, enjoying the play-scheme and having on-going treatment.
Finding 500 is a programme to identify approximately 500 children ‘hidden’ in their homes due to the stigma and shame around disability. The co-ordinator for this programme has started training workshops in local schools, meeting with staff to promote awareness around the need for Inclusive Education; these meetings focus on key topics such as the use of appropriate language, challenging negative beliefs (in families and community), anti-bullying, anti-discrimination and accessibility to grounds and classrooms. The programme cannot succeed without the full participation of the community, and the most difficult part is changing peoples’ perceptions.
Finding 500 has successfully added 30 disabled children to the DA register (breaking down ancient prejudice takes time!) These children were previously unknown outside their own homes and are now able to access the services available through our programmes. Unfortunately most of these children live too far away to join the Play-scheme, but we plan to buy a vehicle in the near future so that we will be able to offer transport to the children and their families.
Parents support meetings are held regularly to focus on issues they may face and give the necessary information and support – both practical and emotional. Emphasis is put on showing that parents have a pivotal role in helping with both the medical care and social awareness; they must also assume responsibilities by getting involved in the whole process of changing attitudes to disability, including their own.
We believe that continuous awareness-raising strategies will create big changes. We now have a series of weekly radio programmes, with presentations from disability professionals and phone-in discussions on key topics as mentioned above in the School Awareness training.
Planning ahead – With the Inclusion Project in The Gambia now well established, we are initiating similar projects with partner organisations in two areas of Zambia to replicate it. DA is drawing up a three-year strategic plan to develop projects in a total of five African countries, recognising the value of play-schemes as the first community intervention to highlight the needs and desperate plight of disabled children.
Disability Africa is working to help achieve a global society where the attitudes of the non-disabled are no longer a barrier to the life-chances of those with impairments. Such a huge shift in attitudes and behaviours will not happen in one generation, but we can see evidence of the huge differences made in the lives of those families already accessing our services.
Our strategic plan draws on the aims and values expressed in major international treaties: the Millennium Development Goals, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the 2013 UN Report: A New Global Partnership and currently the new Sustainable Development Goals being ratified by the UN.
These major International treaties recognise that all people have the right to an education, food, shelter, basic health care, respect and dignity. Surely all children also have a right to the joy and benefits of play? We fully believe in these rights and are committed to make them a reality.
*names changed. All photographs are included with parental permission.
I’m running the London Marathon 2015 for Disability Africa – a charity started by my dad, which helps disabled children in African countries.
I recently visited The Gambia in West Africa and saw for myself the incredible hardship that disabled children and their families face on a day-to-day basis.
We are building a centre to support these children in the village of Gunjur, in West Africa. There are 27,000 people living in Gunjur and about 1,200 of them are disabled children.
Because we are passionate about inclusion, a big part of what the centre will offer (aside from education and medical support) will be a fully accessible playground where all kids disabled and non-disabled can be together.
I am hoping to raise £3,000 which will help fund this play-ground.
Any support you can give to this great project will be really appreciated. You can make a donation at my fundraising page on Virgin Money Giving here www.virginmoneygiving.com/DanLaw1
and follow my training progress on Twitter here @Danlaw6
1.Do you come from a background of working in disability in the UK?
I trained as a secondary school teacher and by coincidence, after a couple of years teaching, the local authority chose my school to include a special unit for disabled children. It meant that I and all my colleagues started to include disabled children in our lessons. It was much easier than many of us had thought and the whole scheme was a great success. This was my first experience of working with disabled children – it was 1978 and I was only 23 years old!
2.What was it that stimulated your interest in disabled people in the first place?
It was this experience of teaching disabled students in my classes that first stimulated my interest in the ideas around Inclusion. It was a real-life, practical demonstration of how such things were not only possible, but actually quite easy.
3.Why did you decide to transfer your affections to Africa? How did all that start?
I left teaching after 7 years and took the job of director of a charity which specialised in providing play and leisure opportunities for disabled children. I stayed with this organisation for 13 years. My next job was developing projects in African countries and although they were not specifically related to disability, my past 20+ years working with disabled children meant that wherever I went in Africa, I always asked what people did for disabled children in their countries. I always got the same answer, “Nothing!” After three years during which I visited Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, I decided that perhaps I should set up Disability Africa as a charity to see if we could transfer our experiences to help disabled children here.
4.What do see as some of the challenges to working in this field in Africa generally and in The Gambia specifically?
Wherever I have been in Africa, (and this is probably true all over the world) the main issue is the same – the stigma and lack of understanding about disabled children is the largest barrier to their development. People often think that the only problem is the difficulties caused by the child’s actual impairment, or poverty but it isn’t! It is the negative traditional beliefs which exist all over Africa, and the shame which families are made to feel, which result in thousands of disabled children being hidden away.
This isolation leads to wide-ranging deprivation of a disabled child’s basic human rights – they have very little social interaction even in their own compounds, they have no education or health care and often they are even deprived of food. Sometimes the children are tied up, and in some cases they are even killed.
Of course, the lack of infrastructure does present problems, but people in African countries have always overcome this by helping each other. It is the African sense of community and the way in which you help each other which always impresses any visitor from Europe or America.
So community support is your ‘front line’ of action when anyone needs help – everybody helps their neighbour – and in this way you manage very well without lots of things that we have in Europe. Actually, your communities work so much better than ours do because of this!
BUT if you have a disabled child, this vital, first line of support is usually missing. We have heard so many parents say that when they ask for help for their disabled child a neighbour will say, “Throw this one out”, “get rid of them”, even “kill the child – it would be better!” So suddenly, families are left without the key support which everyone else relies on. This is devastating for the child and family and results in so much suffering for the child and especially the mother. No mother wants to see her child suffer.
5.I am particularly referring to some of the attitudes towards disability that you must confront in your work in Gunjur.
The other serious difficulty which results from prejudice towards disabled people is that families of disabled children are very shy to bring their disabled children to receive support from our programmes. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are approximately 1,200 disabled children in Gunjur (population 23,000) – we have been working in this community for over two years and have only found 71 disabled children! We need to find ways to create confidence in the families of disabled children so that they feel able to bring them to us.
6.How do you begin to change people’s attitudes to disability when they maybe so entrenched?
Firstly, we recognise that no civilised person wants this situation to exist for disabled children. I have met so many good people in African countries, who when they realise the difficulties faced by disabled young people and their families, they immediately want to help. So we work with these people.
Already in The Gambia, we have found so many good people and organisations who want to help. Our main partner is TARUD in Gunjur – they have conducted so many successful community development programmes but they had no experience of working with disabled children. When we asked them to help us, they immediately made staff and resources available so that we could start a programme in Gunjur – we call it the Gunjur Inclusion Project.
Our “Template for Action” is based on a simple, two-step approach:
- We raise awareness of the needs and Rights of disabled children and young people in their community, and . . .
- We work in partnership with local people to establish relevant services to meet those needs.
Support is through a range of services to improve practical outcomes for disabled young people as identified by local community stakeholders such as parents and the village elders and other NGOs such as Gambian Federation for the Disabled.
Local involvement ensures we are providing the relevant support and training to develop the necessary infrastructure and skills for long-term project management, implementation and financial independence.
Inclusion is at the centre of everything we do. We must ensure that we are addressing stigma and helping to bring down the destructive, negative attitudes and behaviours which families, and the whole community, traditionally hold – these shifts in cultural beliefs will take more than one generation to fully achieve so we have to be committed to long-term engagement. We believe in “Inclusive Community Development” ie fostering programmes which highlight the Rights and needs of disabled young people within their communities and thereby create and mobilise sustainable local support.
Our work draws on the aims, recommendations and values expressed in major international conventions: The WHO World Report on Disability 2011, Millennium Development Goals, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and most recently the 2013 UN Report: A New Global Partnership.
7.What other challenges are there?
A big problem is what I call “Tiredness with Toubabs”*. So many toubabs have come to Africa; we promise much, we throw money around for a couple of years and then we go. It is so irresponsible. The worst effect is that, quite reasonably, people in Africa have grown cynical and tired of this behaviour. No-one believes a toubab when he says he wants to create a sustainable project – people will make a show of agreeing, but everyone really knows that he will be gone in three years, all the funding will have gone and everyone working on the project will be looking for another job! And so it goes on – projects come and go but very little stays and grows.
We have to find a way to overcome this “tiredness with Toubabs” – it will take time and a firm commitment on the part of all partners to really establish the rights skills and structures – including sustainable sources of local income – whether this is from local businesses or Government funding or even diaspora communities.
8.How are you meeting those challenges in Gunjur?
Disability Africa recognises that local knowledge is the key to success so we always try to find an experienced and well-connected local NGO to work with us as our project partners. We have been very lucky with our project in Gunjur – our partnership with TARUD has been a major element in the speed with which we have been able to start programmes there. With TARUD, we have devised the Gunjur Inclusion Project which has already started to make a huge difference to the lives of many disabled young people. We hope it will be a template which we can replicate in other parts of The Gambia and West Africa.
9.What have been your most important successes so far.
With the support of Mrs Fatou Giba, the Headteacher at the Tarud pre-school, we were able to start a playscheme for disabled children at her school on Saturday mornings. Mr Ebrima Tamba, the Project Co-ordinator and a team of dedicated young volunteers from the community have been running this very successful play scheme for nearly three years. We now have over 70 children registered on the programme.
The play scheme is very important because it is an inexpensive and easy intervention which can simultaneously:
* end a child’s isolation,
* provide an appropriately stimulating, fun and educational environment,
* provide a context for medical & educational assessment
* create an interactive opportunity for parents and other family members to begin to change their expectations of their children, and . . .
* change prevailing negative attitudes by providing an opportunity for members of the community, particularly young people, to gain positive experiences of disabled children.
With this simple, fun and cost-effective scheme we are already changing lives.
From the Playscheme we have developed other important services such as:
- A referral/follow-up service for children with urgent medical needs (currently 23 children are being supported)
- Support for families with information, transport and medication costs
- Home visits by project workers to establish family contact and give advice and emotional support
The Playscheme is the very heart of our programme it is the way we get to know the children, understand their individual needs and then develop the services they need.
A very significant step for the growth of the Gunjur Inclusion Project was the acquisition of some land near the Lower Basic School and some grant funding to build the Gunjur Inclusion Centre.
This is a new facility which will enable us to extend our range of programmes and services to provide disabled children with:
- Medical care, mental health care and physiotherapy
- Education – access to local schools; teacher support & resources
- Play scheme – improved facilities, accessible playground
- Parents’ & Carers Groups – support and information
- Promoting ‘Disability Awareness’ in schools and the community.
We are very pleased that the Chief of Kombo South, along with the Alikalo of Gunjur and the VDC all agreed to give the plot of land for this project. It is a real commitment on behalf of the whole community towards this project and we will do everything we can to work with TARUD to help make it a success.
But the real cornerstone, and the main focus of our work at the moment is our “Finding 500 Programme” which was launched last August. This is a wide-ranging initiative to raise awareness of the needs and rights of disabled children and to engage the Gunjur community to help us find at least 500 ‘hidden’ disabled children over the next three years.
This may sound like a lot of disabled children, but the World Health Organisation estimates that there are approximately 1,200 disabled children in Gunjur (population 23,000). “Finding 500” is designed to raise awareness of the Gunjur Inclusion Project and to create confidence in the families of disabled children so that they feel able to bring them to us.
I would urge anyone living in the wider Gunjur area who has a disabled child in their family to get in touch with either Mr. Tamba or Ms. Anchu Jarr, the Finding 500 co-ordinator.
10.What are the lessons you are learning for a wider Gambian or indeed African context?
Stigma about disability, and education about the rights an needs of disabled children, are our greatest challenges right across Africa – we have just started two new programmes in Zambia and the issues are exactly the same there.
* ‘Toubab’ is the colloquial West African term for a white person.
The Gunjur Inclusion Project is on track for it’s busiest year to date.
Our Medical Support Programme continues to grow – We have an ever growing number of children who require medical treatment related to aspects of their impairment.
Here is just one reason why the number of disabled children in African countries is so high: Consider these x-rays . . .
These two x-rays are of the same small girl’s left leg but taken two years apart. She apparently received this injury when she was 3 years old – x-rays were taken but no treatment was available. She is now 5 and has just started coming to our playscheme. She is one of three children we have found with fractured legs which have been untreated for a number of years. We will need significant resources for our medical support programme (each operation for these children will cost approximately £500). There is no doubt, that this will become a major aspect of our work and we are planning to recruit a full-time Medical Support Co-ordinator to manage this.
“Finding 500” is a major new programme which we plan to launch in late March this year. We are attempting to engage the local community to help us find at least 500 disabled children over the next three years. A major aspect of this engagement is obviously to raise awareness within the community of the needs and rights of disabled young people. We will be doing this by working with four key target groups, presenting talks, dramas and even puppet shows to raise awareness of the needs of disabled children and to encourage families to bring them out of hiding to seek support. Our target groups are; the Elders of the community, schools (we expect the majority of the work to focus in local schools), women’s groups, and the local radio station.
We have hired Anchu Jarr and Lamin Colley (pictured left and centre), two disabled trainers based at the Gambian Federation for the Disabled to help us with this project. A range of key messages has been devised and Anchu and Lamin will draft text for a range of presentations which they will deliver to our target groups over the next three years.
. . .
Gunjur Inclusion Centre During a very successful field trip in January 2014, we had three meetings with the entire construction team (architect, contractor, structural engineer, QS and mechanical/electrical engineer). These meetings were to discuss the final details of the project i.e. finishes, lighting, door and window specifications etc. This has allowed the architect to finalise the details of the plans.
A number of new rooms have been added to the original design – specifically two more offices, some simple accommodation for visiting staff/volunteers from UK and a ‘Soft Play Room’. The use of the space has also been ‘rationalised’ to bring adult training, consultation and therapeutic uses together towards the south of the site and all play and children’s areas concentrated to the north.
Until recently it was home to this chap . . .
. . . but is now acting as our materials and equipment store . . .
The detailed plan below gives a clearer indication of the layout and facilities to be provided . . .
The Soft Play Room is a late addition to the plan, since we have discovered that there is a foam factory in Banjul (capital of The Gambia) and there are tailors who specialise in working in heavy plastics. The room will be based on a simple design much like this one.We anticipate that this will be the first Soft Play Room built in The Gambia, and as well as providing tremendous fun for the children, it will afford important therapeutic opportunities especially for physiotherapy.
So recent developments:
The land has been surveyed and block production started.
The building will be made from environmentally friendly ‘pressed earth’ blocks which use a minimal amount of cement which also makes them inexpensive. The blocks are glazed for an attractive and durable finish.
This team of guys can produce 2000 blocks a day ‘flat out’.
Of course, before a building can go up; it first has to go down – excavations for the foundations began on schedule in early March.
Completion is expected to be December 2014.
If you’d like to see how you can help our work, especially our Medical Support Programme, go here or BACK TO DISABILITY AFRICA HOME PAGE
Thanks to the amazing generosity of our supporters at the Toy Trust, preparations are now underway to build our centre to support disabled young people in Gunjur, The Gambia.
The images below document our progress to date:
Early discussions with Saihou, our architect – he has worked with English people before and understands the importance of tea!
The land is donated to us by the community. Here with the official transfer document being presented by the Alikalo of Gunjur (right) and one of his Council of Elders.
Our plot of land – you can just make out a pre-existing building in the tall grass.
This is the site as of last Friday (Feb 7th) cleared and ready for construction to commence!
This is the view from the back corner – it’s just over an acre in total area.
. . . with a surprising amount of space behind the existing building.
The fate of this structure is yet to be decided. At the moment it is home to this chap . . .
. . . but he will have to find alternative accommodation unless he wants to keep the night-watchman company and look after the block-making machines which are due to be installed next week.
We’ll post regular updates on the project here and on the Disability Africa Facebook Page.
Just one reason why the number of disabled children in African countries is so high.
These two x-rays are of the same small girl’s left leg but taken two years apart. She apparently received this injury when she was 3 years old – X-rays were taken but no treatment was available. She is now 5 and has just started coming to our playscheme. We are working to get her appropriate treatment.