Special needs education in rural village

by Anna Camp

uganda_anna_camp_working_with_davidComing to volunteer in the area warmly referred to as 'the bush' of Makondo, Uganda was an impulse decision. It was one that I made when overcome with passion for promoting awareness, acceptance and advancement for all people with disabilities, a passion that I am often overcome by. What I expected to find was a Third World situation. Being a special education teacher in a government-funded public school in America, I knew there would be significant differences in the education system I was to find in Makondo. I was prepared to deal with dismal facilities, a population hardened by their constant daily struggles to survive and a primitive education system with disregard for students with disabilities. Yet it is in what I did not expect to find, that I have found the most.

uganda_david_and_bear1 I found young children with severe physical disabilities who walk miles to and from school daily, a sight that would be impossible to encounter in my modern-day America. I found a young boy who wheels an old, disabled woman over rough, cratered terrain so she might earn a few shillings selling tea to those seeking medical treatment. I found a staff of dedicated teachers that often stay after hours to clean the school grounds with brooms crafted from dried grass stalks, and I have found the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

The seven women who make up the Makondo community of the Medical Missionaries of Mary are unlike any other people I have encountered in my entire life.

Yes, I have met those dedicated to the Lord, and I have met those who are committed to serving others, yet the zeal with which these strong women do both is unequalled.

uganda_makondo_classrom One of the many projects they have fostered is a nursery school for both young children and students with disabilities. At St. Kizito's Nursery School, the Sisters make sure the children get daily nutritious meals. They provide wheelchairs for students with disabilities. They make it possible for teachers to get proper training and make countless home visits to encourage education for every child, whether disabled or not.

In the past, students with disabilities have been neglected, outcast and hidden in homes of families who are often ashamed of their children who have learning difficulties or physical disabilities. Traditionally, these people are thought of as a curse or a burden to the harsh small village lifestyle of the people in rural Uganda. With the start of this nursery, a little monetary aid, and the encouragement of the Sisters, many disabled students who would have gone uneducated and unchallenged throughout their lives, now get a chance to advance their learning, improve their life skills, and therefore increase their independence levels.

While I do not foresee myself being able to make the same promises as the Sisters have - to a lifetime of poverty, chastity and obedience - I have been inspired and awed by the positive changes that have come to people with disabilities as a direct result of the Sisters' work. I will carry their spirit back to America with me, in order to be a leader in the fight for universal equality for those living with disabilities.

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Anna Camp is a special education teacher from Denver, CO, USA who volunteered for five weeks in Makondo to provide teacher training and to assess and create goals for current students with disabilities.

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