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How project helps blind and children with albinism in Zanzibar

How project helps blind and children with albinism in Zanzibar

DESPITE increasing campaign against denying children right to education and social interaction by hiding children with disabilities, some parents and guardians still hide them contrary to the UN phrase ‘Leave No One Behind (LNOB).’ ‘Leave no one behind’ is the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It represents the unequivocal commitment of all UN Member States to eradicate poverty in all its forms, end discrimination and exclusion, and reduce the inequalities and vulnerabilities that leave people behind and undermine the potential of individuals and of humanity as a whole.

LNOB compels us to focus on discrimination and inequalities (often multiple and intersecting) that undermine the agency of people as holders of rights, like the social practices (such as the misconception that children with disabilities are useless and cannot be taken to school) of leaving children behind.

It is arguably due to that fact, MyRight organization and Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired (SRF) are supporting the project dubbed ‘inclusive education and health care’ aiming to ensure all blind children and the albino are enrolled in schools.

The project being implemented in three districts of Zanzibar: Wete in Pemba; Central, and North ‘A’ targets to reach 250 children with visual impairment, but by the end of last year, a total of 121 children were identified and enrolled to school, and twelve children who dropped out due to parents’ negligence were returned to school.

The 200m/-annually project coordinator in Zanzibar, Mr Adil Mohamed Ali from the Zanzibar National Association of the Blind (ZANAB) are implementing the project in collaboration with Albino Association- Jumuiya ya Watu wenye Ualbino (JWUZ).

Similar project was also implemented in the Tanzania mainland by Tanzania League of the Blind (TLB) and Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS).

Mr Ali said the project which started in 2018 ended last year, and has been extended to December this year (2022) with the aim of identifying more blind children who are out of school so that they can get back to school or enrolled for the first time. The children are supplied with uniform, schoolbag, and other schooling material, and some parents who are not financially stable (or in abject poverty) are supported with some funds to support the family.

“Thanks to MyRight and SRF for the support, but since the project is coming to an end, we are soliciting for funds from donors, as we try to find ways to sustain it. We have sent application for support to the Germany Christian Blind Mission (CBM) and SRF,” he said.

According to data (2016) available at ZANAB, Zanzibar has 186 albinos and 12,000 blind people, including children, some of whom are still being hidden by parents or people taking care of them, particularly in villages. Mr Adil Mohamed said that under the project, the albino children also had their skin checked while the albino adults were screened for cancer.

“At least 117 children were skin checked using dermatoscope device.”

“We need to continue with the project because we are advocating for the blind and albino to go to school. Some parents still think children with disabilities are useless, needing no education and medical care,” Mr Adil said as he asked the government to improve schools with inclusive education program so that it is friendly to children with disability.

Analysts argue that it is important to understand that inclusive is not as a philosophy or educational approach exclusively for children with disabilities, but as an approach that is fundamental to achieving the right to education for children from all marginalized groups, for example, girls.

According to Mr Adil Mohamed, wide awareness about the importance of education and good health to children is still required as many parents have the perception that blindness or disability is inability to do anything.

“We are asking people to change their attitude on children with disability so that the children are taken to school and engage in all activities,” said Mohamed who said that some of the areas are difficult to get to, such as the inhabited small islet like Kojani and Fundo, because of lack of reliable means of transport to reach the Islets.

“This work of advocacy in remote areas and the small inhabited areas is not easy. We need a budget for the committed people to visit the areas to woo parents and members to accept to take their children with disability to school,” Mohamed said.

He revealed further that the project also include publication of brochures and leaflets used in public awareness along with encouraging children in rural areas to expose their colleagues with disability who are not in school.

Hassan Abdalla Aboud is one of the children who helped to identify the children with disability who are out of school, while community leaders also have been helping, in their respective areas, to promote children rights. Sheha in Unguja Central district says everyone has a role to play in safeguarding children and motivate parents to consider the importance of education for their children and the country which has been struggling to improve learning environment for all children.

Ms Fatma Hassan says “It is possible to have all children attend schools should all adults, family members, and the community work together to promote education for all children without discrimination.” ZANAB’s Adil says that the project has also helped to establish a clinic for the albino, where they skin check their bodies to identify the albinos who need sun skin lotion, or other treatment, including operation.

During an interview with the Daily News, Mr Adil said “We thank MyRight organization for purchasing equipment used in albinism clinic at Mnazi Mmoja. At least, between one and six visit the clinic weekly, which include skin testing, including for cancer.” He said two people with albinism have undergone minor operation at the newly established clinic, saving money and time for the patients who would have travelled to KCMC, Ocean road, or Muhimbili in mainland for treatment.

Having the albinism clinic has also helped to draw up proposals for the Zanzibar government to start purchasing sunscreen lotion, “It is now available, but the turnup of people with albinism to collect the lotion is low. Let us encourage albinos in Zanzibar to go for the skin protective lotion.” Through the ongoing advocacy work of ZANAB, the government has been supporting the development of people with disability, including efforts to identify children out of school, along with conducting survey to establish how many persons in the country have albinism and other kinds of disability. Mohamed emphasizes, “Let us continue to ensure that children with disability and albinism can go to school. It is good that the government is providing free medicine and sunscreen.”

MyRight and SRF supports projects and programmes that help to make the disability organizations’ in the partner countries stronger, and able to participate in social development.

Establishing strong organizations provides persons with disabilities with greater opportunities to be their own agents for change and to represent their members.

All activities take a right perspective and are rooted in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted in 2006. According to the Convention, it is not the individual who should have to adapt to the existing society – it is up to society to change so that it is more inclusive.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes the human rights of all children, including those with disabilities. The Convention contains a specific article recognizing and promoting the rights of children with disabilities, including right to education.

Human Rights activist and lawyer, Mr Juma Thomas says Tanzania has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a number of other international, regional and national agreements, and in documents, the country (Tanzania/Zanzibar) has favourable legislation concerning disabilities.

But there is a great deal that needs to be done or improved by the government and members of the society, particularly parents, guardians, and teachers in schools and religious teaching centres, in terms of implementing and complying with conventions and laws.

UNICEF says children with disabilities and their families constantly experience barriers to the enjoyment of their basic human rights and to their inclusion in society. 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. While the situation for these children is changing for the better, there are still severe gaps.

The State Minister- First Vice President (Anti-drugs, HIV/ADS, and People with Disabilities-PWDs) Ms Harusi Said Suleiman says that sustainable development requires the inclusion of everyone, including people with disability and with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, UN Member States pledged to ensure “no one will be left behind.”

“The government has been taking different measures, including implementing conventions and reviewing laws in the country to ensure people with disability including children are taken to school and live a better life. But the government efforts should be backed by members of the public,” she said.

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Author: DAILY NEWS Reporter

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