In Eswatini, a training manual for caregivers of children with special needs and disabilities inspires hope

The Church Forum on HIV/AIDS in eZulwini recently-launched a Caregiver’s Training Manual for Children with Special Needs and Disabilities. The aim of the launch was to publicise and disperse the manual among the invited guests, who included representatives from government ministries, civil society organisations, developmental partners, caregivers, tertiary institutions, people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities.

Zodwa Baartjies from Family Transformation gave an overview of the manual and its three (3) modules, which include Early Childhood Care Development and Education (ECCDE), Young Children with special Needs and Early Interventions for Young Children with special needs.

Speaking at the event, Lucky Ndlovu, Director of the National Children Services Department, said, “People with disabilities are one of the key stakeholders of government in society.”

He also highlighted the importance of ECCDE and policies that protect children such as the Children’s Protection Welfare Act of 2012 and the Education Sector Policy (Inclusive Education). He further mentioned places and institutions of referral for children with special needs and disabilities in Eswatini and indicated that the “Government [of Eswatini] is in the process of identifying people with disabilities in the 59 constituencies of the country [20 per region] who are going to be budgeted for and supported. Sipho Dlamini, Chairperson of the Federation of Organisations Disabled People in Eswatini (FODSWA) reiterated that “people with disabilities are human beings like other people [and] they have an important role to play in the country. Their involvement in the community will promote economic growth.”

Fikile Shongwe from the Ministry of Education and Training (Special Education Needs) led discussions on the Education and Training Sector Policy (2011) which focuses on the mainstreaming of relevant quality education for every learner irrespective of their disability or impairment, “Children with disabilities have rights like every child,” he said.

Also speaking at the launch event, Dr Ishmael Dhemba from the Southern African Nazarene University (SANU) said, “in our societies we do not talk about disabled people as capable people, they are different but able.” He added: “the education system needs to include every learner despite their conditions and that inclusion should begin at home, they need to be included even in communities.”Representing the Caregivers at Mahlabaneni Neighbourhood Care Points (NCP), Thulisile Gamedze, pleaded with the government [of Eswatini] to provide them with support that the Church Forum is not offering, for example,ensuring that children from care points get the same quality education that children in pre-school receive.

In wrapping up the discussions, Colani Magongo, Director of the Church Forum gave an overview of the manual and the process leading up to the launch. He observed that there are currently no children with disabilities found in the NCPs, not because they are not in the communities but because they are not brought to the NCPs. Among other interventions, the Church Forum has assisted children with disabilities with wheelchairs and crutches in the past so that children could attend NCPs for services. However, uptake of some of the initiatives was low. Hence, the manuals include locations of referrals for children with special needs for assistance.

About The Church Forum

The Church Forum on HIV/AIDS is a coalition of three main bodies in Eswatini namely, the Council of Eswatini Churches, the League of African Churches, and the Eswatini Conference of Churches. The Church Forum also includes non-affiliated churches. These are, the Eswatini Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and, the International Tabernacle Ministries. The Church Forum was founded in 1999 to contribute to the multi-sectoral HIV/AIDS response and formally registered in 2009.One of their strategic goals for 2014-2019 is to foster a comprehensive Christian response to HIV/AIDS ensuring sustainability and increased capacity through coordination and collaborative strategies. This was the starting point that led to the creation of the Training Manual for Children with Special Needs and Disabilities.