As the head of the school, Francis got the idea for the special needs school in 1998 because of his own physical disability. He wanted to get more people off the streets and turn them into a productive, sustainable force. So in 2002, the institution was created. It was hard to sustain at first because most children with special needs come from poor families, which do not send them to get an education because they have no extra money and see it as a waste of time. When a child has a disability, many people have negative attitudes towards them and will view it as a curse from God.
The approach the school now uses is a 5:1 ratio. For every 5 normal students admitted and paying tuition, one child with special needs is let in. This includes those who are physically disabled, deaf, blind, autistic, time-takers, or intellectually challenged. A series of specialists interact with and assess the children so they can place everyone in the correct class level. Part of the school goes from nursery to Primary 7, and the vocational group is made up of those who can work but are not good with education.
Most students start the day with class at 8 am, play time at 10, and break tea at 11. Then they have free activities and can meditate on their lessons for about a half hour. They have more lessons, lunch, and then end the day with exploration of more specific studies or disciplines. The children go back home around 3 or 4 pm. This schedule varies based on the needs of each child. Most go to school everyday, but others may come only three times a week or a couple hours of the day.
The school has a total of 286 students, 30 of which board there. Ages range from 3 to 19 years, but they leave at different times depending on when skills are gained. Classes have about 25 students in each, which is very small for Uganda. The average classroom has 50 students or even 100. Funding for the school comes from the 5:1 ratio as well as local fundraising and handcrafts the students make and sell. Wings of Support, a Dutch organization, donated the chairs and toys for the school, while another Dutch organization helped with construction, especially the bathrooms and doors. The school also carries out agriculture on about 20 acres of land, so they sell when there is excess.
The special needs school has a doctor for medical check-ups and physical therapy exercises for mostly rehabilitation. They provide chapel services for all students and some specifically for the deaf. Teachers must be able to sign and talk during class, and brail must be prepared for those who are blind beforehand. Pets such as rabbits and chickens are used to help some of the children with communication, unruly behavior, or teamwork. The school includes bedrooms for boarders, a kitchen, computer lab, and sewing machines.
The main mission of the school is to teach children to become self-reliant job makers, instead of job seekers. They want to get rid of the stigma in the home and the community, and let others see the person before the disability. The school is integrating those with disabilities into the rest of the community so that they can also be educated and productive.
We were able to tour the school and see inside each of the classrooms. We met some of the faculty members and students. We even got to see brail being made, a service for the deaf, and one of the students write with her feet.
Did the school meet your expectations?
How is it similar to or different from the way people with disabilities are viewed and treated in the U.S.?