By Thérèse Kafando, General Director of the Center for Integrated Education and Training of the Deaf and Hearing (CEFISE) and partner of Light for the World international disability and development organization
I have always faced challenges because of my gender — from early childhood to adulthood, and even to my current position as head teacher of a successful school.
Growing up as the only girl in my family, I had to prioritize household chores during the day while my five brothers were allowed to study for school. At night, I would study by candlelight or wait for a full moon in order to catch up.
Because of my sex, many of the men in my community did not believe I could go very far. But my hard work and studies paid off: As I got older, my father accepted that I wanted to focus on my studies and he sold some of our livestock to support me through school and university.
I went on to graduate as a professional teacher and I got offered a job at a public school, where I met my husband and best friend — Abel Kafando — who later founded Center for Integrated Education and Training of the Deaf and Hearing (CEFISE) and became head of the school. I was inspired by Abel’s idea of including children with disabilities, specifically those with hearing impairments, in the classroom.
I soon learned the shocking reality that 32 million children with disabilities in developing countries are out of school. I also learned how big this problem is in Burkina Faso. Tragically, Abel passed away several years after we met. After the death of my husband, the role of head teacher was passed over to me.
At this time, teachers, especially the men, thought that the school would have to shut down. This challenge made me even more determined to fulfill mine and Abel’s shared dream of creating an environment in which children — regardless of gender, background, or disability — can learn together in the same classroom.
I am proud of our success.
Our center in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, now educates 3,800 pupils, including around 500 children with disabilities. Our school has become a reference center for inclusive education in Burkina Faso. We even assist the government in training teachers in sign language and inclusive education. We partner with many organizations, including Light for the World, towards an inclusive society — teaching all children, including kids with disabilities, in regular schools.
It is easier and more cost effective to integrate children with disabilities in mainstream schools than having segregated schools. Inclusive education brings better social, academic, health, and economic outcomes than segregated schools. We make sure to include girls and women with disabilities, as they are almost twice as unlikely to be employed as disabled men. Gender inequality in disability inclusion is something that tends to fade into the background given the problems children with disabilities face in their day-to-day lives. But we can’t allow that!
A school in West Africa teaches students with physical, visual, and light intellectual disabilities alongside deaf and hearing individuals. pic.twitter.com/fdoO6wLcfi
— Devex (@devex) April 17, 2017
The most inspiring story for me at CEFISE is Laeticia’s.
Due to a case of meningitis, she became deaf. Her father brought her to CEFISE to obtain a hearing device, and when we spoke to her, we noticed that she wasn’t doing well psychologically.
We worked with Laeticia and soon her mental health improved significantly. She enjoyed studying and spent every free minute in the library.
Once she graduated, she wanted to go to university, but because of a lack of financial means and a barrier of not being able to afford an interpreter, her future educational path seemed uncertain.
But the local Director of Inclusive Education agreed to award Laeticia a scholarship and she was enrolled in Psychology at the university in Ouagadougou. Now, she is a high school teacher in psychology at CEFISE, which fills me with enormous pride.
These are the sort of success stories that drive me and remind me of how much I love working with children.
Education in developing countries is still not where it should be. However, it’s a basic human right and nobody should be left behind.
Children with disabilities face even more challenges and barriers in their lives, and empowering them is something that’s very close to my heart. Also, treating women and girls the same way as men and boys is a no brainer!
I’m proud to say that CEFISE has now developed into a resource center for other schools in Burkina Faso that are enhancing their disability inclusion. Overcoming all kinds of discrimination, especially the double discrimination girls and women with disabilities face, should be the basis of all inclusion projects.