Children with disabilities, who often live in some of the poorest families and face discrimination in their communities, are generally not prioritised in terms of education. During the COVID-19 crisis, these children have faced an even higher risk of exclusion from learning. Because children with disabilities are more likely to drop out of school than their peers, there is now an added risk that those who leave school now may never return. Further compounding the risk to their well-being is the fact that children with disabilities often require physical therapy and related care services, basic education support, and assistive technology, which frequently are only available to them at school.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary in the community of Bauleni in Lusaka, Zambia, run an all-inclusive Primary and Secondary school. Bauleni, like all parts of Zambia, has felt the heavy impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing health and social restrictions. As a result, conditions and operations at the school changed considerably for a period, with the school, closed, and staff and students at home. Nonetheless, the project adapted, and has continued to provide quality education throughout the year to 44 children who are both deaf and blind, the only school in Zambia to provide education to children with these disabilities. During the lockdown, 43 of the children were educated though an innovative home-based care and outreach programme that had been in development by the project for many years. As a result, these students were able take full advantage of the services remotely during the pandemic.
The project is considered a national Centre of Excellence in disability services. The dedication of the staff team has ensured that a group of the most marginalised children in the country continued to receive vital support during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.