The past few months have been drenched with rain in Harare due to our ongoing rainy season. This has yielded good crops for us as a country and for me, unexpected opportunities of advocacy and awareness in the field of Special Needs Education. All good things have their limitations and many articles in the local paper show flooded areas where homes have been destroyed and students in dilapidated classrooms sitting in puddles of brown water inspite of the rain. The resilience of a hungry mind cannot be fathomed. As one of my students put it..
..”How can i give up? I started reading Fat Cat and now I’m reading chapter books from the library, by myself”.
I believe education is the awakening of one’s soul to the endless possibilities we can create for ourselves.
Those excluded from education are robbed of the possibility, no one should be left out. It is still apparent in the community that Inclusion of people with disabilities is still an ongoing reformation, the policies, laws and constitution only scratch the surface of the needs of people with disabilities. The issues that prevail are the inaccessibility of the curriculum, school infrastructures, inadequate provision, trained personnel, just to mention a few. A social paradigm shift is also a deep need as communities still view people with disabilities as incapable. At traffic lights the norm is to see a blind individual begging for money, or a person with physical disabilities lay on the street sides helplessly asking for alms. Intellectual disabilities are feared and these children mostly stay at home until adulthood.
There is indeed lots of work to do on the ground and a change in perception of disabilities in our communities. This month I was invited to join a steering committee for a network created by parents who found a need to empower other interested parties and promote awareness of exceptional children. The GTLD Network Zimbabwe (Gifted, Talented with Learning Differences) has began forums with experts who share information on how to manage and foster the strengths of these children. I was greatly honoured to provide a theoretical background into the topic area of the day. I have been granted the opportunity in my field to see theory in practice for over 6 years and the power of theory for me is that it’s a starting point.
I have also been asked to join a team of enthusiastic people who are doing ground breaking work in communities such asMbare for children with disabilities. Signs of Hope Trust Zimbabwe is just the opportunity to share educational intervention strategies with other teachers and professionals and I enthusiastically look forward to sharing and learning. I am hopeful that as a Zimbabwean community we are beginning to awaken to the possibility of inclusion, not in theory but in practice.
The other night I marveled over a cup of tea at the best reality show I have ever watched on television! I recommend it to anyone interested. It’s a dating reality show called the Undateables I was swept in emotion and found myself cheering on the young gentlemen wining and dining possible suitors.Heartbreaks were as equally common as the starting of new relationships and the realities of life were experienced with no modification by the people with disabilities that take part in the show. It made me think about how dating for people with disabilities is still widely taboo in Zimbabwe and very much frowned upon.
Over many conversations with family, friends and acquaintances who find an interest in special needs, it is more evident that people with disabilities are viewed as not being
capable of heterosexual relationships and marriage. During one of my counselling/ consultation sessions with a parent whose daughter is on the autistic spectrum, the idea of relationships with men was a difficult one for her. Her daughter, a 25 year old had started to take a fancy to some men she saw on television and her mother strongly discouraged this.The old age belief that people with disabilities should not date, marry or reproduce is denying one the potential to live life fully.
Dating back to Plato, the idealistic belief was that people with disabilities stood in the way of a perfect world. The view was “the offspring of the inferior or the
better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious unknown place as they should be ” (Mackelprang & Salsglver, 1996). Over the 17th to the 19th century Judeo-Christianity linked disability with the consequences of sin and further on, people with disabilities were believed to be capable of molding into less threatening , more acceptable people (Rothman, 1971). Eugenics and Darwinism emphasized selective reproduction, dominance of hereditary abilities and disabilities and further encouraged reproduction of socially desirable individuals whilst discouraging “undesirable”reproduction. Atrocities such as forced sterilization are believed as being a protective measure for women with disabilities. It is also a common belief in Zimbabwe that if a child is born with a disability, it is because of the mother’s genes.
Every human being deserves to be loved and to give love. That parent believed that she was protecting her child from possible rejection, hurt and believed her daughter will always remain her daughter and nothing more. Ultimately her daughter is a human being capable of love, denying her the opportunity or choice of love, marriage and reproduction is denying her humanity and rights. As a special needs specialist it is my role to teach people with disabilities how to communicate and understand these emotions, to reduce the stigma and worry that comes with over protectiveness, to accept these aspects of people with disabilities and not to deny or suppress them.
There are many controversies surrounding this topic, all with justifiable reasons for and against, I encourage parents to allow their children in adulthood to make the decision to love and be loved.
As an introvert I take in the world quite deeply. I haven’t been writing, but I have been reading and thinking, so I have been growing and changing.
“As much as we may try to enforce inclusive policies and laws,we need inclusive minds.”
My career in Special Needs Education is 5 years old. I have found that my passions and knowledge from my BA in International Law and Human Rights is applicable and relevant to special needs education. The issue of Human Rights and Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe has much debate and efforts by the local government to uphold United Nations recommendations are still a challenge due to the economical woes the country is currently in. The policies and laws are vague and are not being enforced, additionally persons with Disabilities or Special Needs do not know their rights.
My work in an international school is one of great privilege and I have learnt through experience to view education from a more pragmatic/humanistic view. This philosophy is more open to difference, I found that instead of adapting/trying to fit in as I was accustomed to in a post colonial country, my differences were embraced and diversity a welcomed normality. The main thread of Special Education in Africa now has been towards inclusion/normalization. Controversies still exist and thrive due to a lack of awareness and negative cultural ideals. People with disabilities/special needs have the right as everyone else to participate in society and reach self actualization. Inclusion to me is the first step, as much as we may try to enforce inclusive policies and laws, we need inclusive minds. Inclusion should be a normality and not a special/new way of doing things, it is not a privilege it is a right. As young as my journey in Special Needs is, I am optimistic that ahead, there is still a lifetime of reform for me to navigate and challenge.