A young boy sits in a chair with crutches either side of him.
A young boy sits in a chair with crutches either side of him.

Photo © Sightsavers

Zambo

COVID-19 and homeschooling in Cameroon

We first met Zambo, who has spina bifida, in 2019. Access to education through an Irish Aid funded Sightsavers project in Cameroon had transformed his life, making it possible for him to attend school and make friends. He was also supplied a pair of crutches to make his life easier, so he didn’t have to move around by crawling. His confidence soared and he was happy at school.

“I like to play with my friends,” Zambo told us back then. “I like to play dodgeball and all the games, and I like to sing and dance. I don’t find anything hard about school and I like Spider-man! My favourite subject is maths, and I want to be a teacher when I grow up.”

Fast-forward a year and the world has changed for all of us, but the potential impact on children with disabilities is devastating. This is because in many countries they’re not considered when schools are making plans to transfer their face-to-face classes to online alternatives.

We caught up with ten-year-old Zambo and his mother Antoinette to find out how life has changed for them and were relieved and pleased to hear that Zambo has been able to continue learning, thanks to support from the inclusion champions (teachers who have received training on inclusive education approaches) at his school. Classes have been continuing via WhatsApp lessons, and the champions follow up with families to make sure they’re getting the support they need.

“I like to learn while at home,” says Zambo, “because I like school. Mama helps me through the WhatsApp lessons. I study with my brothers and sister. I also like to read and write.”

Of the inclusion champions, Zambo says: “They come to our house and help me to learn.”

“It is good… they support me a lot,” Antoinette adds. “Since Zambo is not strong in maths these WhatsApp lessons enable me support him to catch up.”

Home learning for Zambo, as for all children, isn’t without its challenges. His mother has problems with her android phone being defective, so they’re sometimes having to work solely from Zambo’s textbooks. The inclusion champions have had to temporarily stop their home visits, which were hugely valuable in supporting the family. And Zambo has ongoing health issues relating to his disability that Antoinette is now having to cope with alone.

But Antoinette is hopeful that classes will eventually resume, and that Zambo will be able to receive surgery to help with his health issues.

As for Zambo, he’s keen to get back into his previous routine, and has changed his future goal. “I want to continue to go to school,” he says. “I would like to become a medical doctor.”

It’s an ambition Antoinette is fully supportive of. “I will encourage him in his decision to become medical doctor in future,” she says. “If I have the means, he will continue his studies.”

A young boy with his mother, working on a table outside.

Zambo and his mother Antoinette doing school work together.

Photo © Sightsavers

Irish Aid supports Sightsavers' inclusive education project in Cameroon, which encourages an inclusive environment in the mainstream education system. The project includes workshops on curriculum revision to include special needs education, identification of children with disabilities in the community, training of teachers in pilot schools and refurbishment of school environments to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Irish Aid and Sightsavers are adapting programmes wherever possible to meet changing requirements in the countries where we work.

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