The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was established on December 3, 1992 by the United Nations. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
Every child has the right to education on the basis of equality of opportunity. However, children with disabilities form a significant proportion of the out-of-school population. Very often, their abilities are overlooked, their capacities are underestimated and their needs are given low priority. Yet, the barriers they face are more frequently as a result of the environment in which they live than as a result of their impairment.
The BEQUAL NGO Consortium (BNC) supports this right to education for all. In the villages where the BNC project is implemented, and in collaboration with the Provincial Education and Sport Service (PESS), the District Education and Sports Bureau (DESB) and the Village Education Development Committee (VEDC), they identify the out-of-school children and the reasons why they are not going to school. In this process, they found several children with impairment and they collaborated with other organisations such as COPE to find a solution to enable these children to go to school.
Por Ju, Lar Lee and Nak are three children with physical impairment from Houn District – Oudomxay province. The children could not walk or move without help so stayed at home, not receiving an education and not socialising with their peers. With support from the VEDC small grant, they were sent to the Luang Prabang Provincial Medical Rehabilitation Office for medical support, and they also received a wheelchair from Center of Medical Rehabilitation.
Por Ju is an 11-year-old Hmong girl living with her parents in Kiewpha village in Houn District, Oudomxay Province. She has cerebral palsy and had never been enrolled in school because her parents were concerned she would not get the support she needed. With support from the BNC and VEDC, Por Ju spent 12 days in Luang Prabang Provincial Medical Rehabilitation Office where she was properly diagnosed and received appropriate treatment. Por Ju learned specific exercises to improve her physical movements. Por Ju’s father, Morheu explained that “since my daughter couldn’t walk like other girls, we didn’t know what to do and where to go for treatment. But after the BNC came to support our village, teachers in Kiewpha primary school suggested I take my daughter to the rehabilitation office. I am very proud and happy that one day my daughter might walk as her friends”. The VEDC also encouraged Por Ju to join the BNC reading camp, which is a community library for children and where young secondary students conduct reading activities for younger children. Por Ju was so happy to interact with children of her own age-group and start socialising. Somphone, Plan International Laos staff in Houn District added that “Por Ju was one of the most active and excited to join my reading activity when I was a volunteer in her village. She tried to sit next to her brother and sometimes repeat words when her brother reads a book”.
Lar Lee is an 11-year-old Hmong boy from the same village. He had been living with cerebral palsy for more than five years. He couldn’t go anywhere without the help from his parents or relatives. He wanted to go to school but he couldn’t walk properly and suffered from severe memory and concentration disorders. His father recognised that “It’s difficult to take him to school or the farm. We usually leave him at home and sometimes take him with us to the field for planting rice”.
Lar Lee received similar treatment to that of Por Ju. He hasn’t yet been able to attend school because he is still not able to concentrate on what other people are saying but he is getting better every day. He practices walking with bamboo handrail and he can now stand and walk one or two steps by himself. Lar Lee’s uncle acknowledged that “We are so proud that we received support to do the paperwork to apply to rehabilitation office and all the follow up until Lar Lee gets better”.
Nak is a 14-year-old Khmu boy who lives in Mokprai village, Houn District, Oudomxay Province. He suffers from clubfoot and short memory disorder. He used to crawl to school until grade 3 and then dropped out. Nak received the same treatment. When he was at the rehabilitation center, he proudly told BNC staff “I am very happy that I can walk. Not perfectly, but now I can walk and not only crawling on the floor. One day, I will be back to school”. And his dream became reality! Nak is now attending grade 3.
The BEQUAL NGO Consortium closely monitors the physical improvement of these three children, following up on any difficulty they may encounter with their rehabilitation therapy and providing special care-giver support to their parents and community. They are also encouraging them to join learning activities with other children in their village.
Through the BEQUAL program, the Australian Government and the European Union are working to ensure that more children will have access to school and able to complete a basic education in the future. Because every girl and every boy, every child with disability, has the right to a quality education so that they can have more chances in life.