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Monday, May 31, 2010

Special Needs School and Orphanage

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.?


  1. The special needs school has been one of my favorite experiences so far. The school met my expectations for a Ugandan school. It seems that the school easily accomidates for all of the different disabilities the students have. On the other hand, in the US I feel there are not as many difficulties in beginning a special needs school. Though there may be some stigma in the disabled, I do not feel that it is not the norm for parents in the US to not send their disabled children to school if they are financially able.
    One of the most touching parts of this visit was seeing how the students work so well together and are so accepting. An example that I know touched everyone in the group were two girl best friends: one was born with no arms and the other was blind. The two girls are inseprable and help eachother in what the other is lacking in. The blind girl was often seen with her hand on the shoulder of the girl with no arms being led. The blind girl also did what she could to use her arms to help her friend in tasks she was not able to do.
    Something that we were able to witness was the girl with no arms writing with her feet/toes. The owner, Francsis, said she had the best "foot writing". It was amazing to see how this young girl has already figured out a way around her disability and is able to write using her feet.
    I am so happy this was part of our trip because it was a very inspiring experience. It is always good to know there are people like Francsis that care so much to help others.

  2. I felt that going to the special needs school was one of the most touching events so far in our Ugandan experience. I was shocked to see how advanced this school was for special needs students. Francis already understood something that the US is just starting to understand. That special needs students should be integrated with students that are not special needs in order to ensure that they will be able to function in society when they leave the school. This also ensures that the special needs students will also not resent the school for what it is trying to do since they are allowed to interact with all types of students. I think what Francis is doing is critical to the development of special needs children. I commend what he is doing and hope that other schools like this one start to develop in areas all over Uganda to continue developing not only special needs students but the future of Uganda.

  3. I also thought that the visit to the special needs school was one of the best experiences. It was so touching seeing the kids. And they were all so strong it seemed. Especially the girl that Kristen described as "footwriting," it would be easy for her to just give up on life and feel sorry for herself but she has been learning to survive and even thrive despite her disability. it was truly inspiring.
    One of the questions in our journal was "given what you have observed while in Kampala, do you think the challenges facing orphans with physical disabilities will be greater in a developing economy or in a developed economy such as the US?" This really got me thinking. There is so much less awareness of and help for the disabled in Uganda then there is in the US. I'm not saying it's easy to live in the US with a disability, it for sure isn't, but in Uganda, this is the first and only place I've seen that helps out disabled children. Other then this school, I havent seen on disabled child on the street either. People try to hide disability no matter what it takes in Uganda which is so unfortunate. In a country like the US, where everyone is relatively stable, people start thinking about helping the less fortunate. But in Uganda, people are still worried about making sure they can get food on the table so they dont have time or resources to worry about helping out the disables. I think this needs to change and soon! People with disabilities deserve just as much as "normal" people but they often don't get it. I think it would be good for more people in Uganda to start reaching out to people who aren't as lucky as them. Uganda is off to a great start with this special needs school; now it just needs to keep the ball rolling.

  4. I was very impressed by the integration in the special needs school. I understand that for funding reasons it is necessary to have 5 able children for every 1 disabled child, but I think this set up helps to lessen the gap between able and disabled as well. With normal students seeing disable peers first as human beings and individuals, they learn to accept differences in all forms and respect each person for who they ARE, now what's different. In fact, the integration seems more progressive than in the Illinois public high school that I attended. Anybody with a disability (whether physical or learning) was relegated to the "East Wing," and if you had to go there for help with anything, you immediately were made fun of for being 'stupid' or 'retarded.' I really feel that if my school had attempted to bring everybody closer or maybe spread the classes for special needs throughout the campus, my classmates might have had a chance to meet special needs students and know them as people, instead of casting them off as 'East wingers,' which always upset me.

  5. WOW, what a tear jerking experience! The Special Need School was a very sad but joyous experience. When waslking onto the campus and seeing some of these children brought sadness upon me that their parents just gave them away and dint want them. It was also hard not to feel sorry for some of these children were had physical mutations and disabilities. I then realized why have pity on these beautiful children when they don't pity themselves? The school was an amazing place whose goals were to make these children feel a part of society and teach them skills to succeed. I really enjoyed watching these children interact with one another. I learned to look at the person first before their disability. There was a girl there who had no arms. In America, she would have been given up on and become a "wasted body". She was a very gifted writer! She wrote with her feet and her "foot-writing" was definitely better than my handwriting. This really warmed my heart up looking at her form sentences with her feet.

    This is just one amazing and dynamic student that I interacted with. Overall this experience was life changing and I am grateful for the staff at this school. They taught me that these children aren't "disabled nor slow, yet unique and self paced. This school is really giving these "disabled" children a chance to succeed in the "normal" world.

  6. Like everyone else I was very touched by the mission of the school and the unique, gifted children we met. It was so nice to see a Ugandan creating a positive impact on society. This is definitely a place where I would like to see more foreign money given to because I know it would be used in an efficient and beneficial manner - Francis seems to be very educated and driven.

    The only problem I had with the school was that I was a little unsure of the quality of academics given there. I think the vocational training is great, but I'm questioning the education in the integrated academic classrooms. Francis said that they wait until the disabled students have mastered each concept before moving on, and so that way the "normal" students have 100% covered the concept by the time the disabled student understands it. I'm not sure if this technique is the best for the "normal" students and if it is slowing down their learning.

  7. I was surprised when we got to the school because I was told that it was going to be very sad with children all over the place with missing body limbs or deformities. This was not the case at all. There were only about 30 children there and not all of them had deformities. I was actually encouraged by the mission of the school to help develop the children with disabilities into productive members of society.

    I was also expecting there to be more children there that had no families or their families abandoned them because of their disability. Then where there are orphans, they still try to get them back into the community by sending them home with someone in the local community to integrate them back into society. This concept really helps the children gain the skills they need to be productive.

  8. I really enjoyed the visit to this school. It was great to see disabled students and normal students play together as if nothing was different about them. I think this school has a fantastic mission and that they are really making a difference.

    I didn't see many of the classrooms or get to talk with a lot of the kids because I spent most of my time with a 15 year old boy named Peter (And Robinah and Alex). We talked about many things, but mostly about Alex's future. He had no clue what he wants to do because he didn't think he could be a doctor because he is in a wheel chair. After Robinah talked with him, I think he once again wants to be a doctor. I think it would be good if the school provided planning for after their school and really encouraged and challenged their students to excel after school.

  9. I was really impressed with the special needs school and orphanage. All of the children there were so welcoming and encouraged each other despite their differences. The integration between the disabled and non-disabled is unique compared to what I've seen in the United States. My high school has a good special needs program compared to most in our area, but looking at the school in Uganda, I feel my home town has a lot it can learn. For example, all children enrolled in the school must learn some brail and sign language so that they can communicate with the blind and deaf students. This shows that the school embraces the individual and that kids are taught to see only people, and not their disabilities. Integrating is necessary so that the disabled child can truly find success later in life in society. The child will understand how to communicate and interact with his peers and make them see him for his abilities and not his handicaps.

    Francis has done a great job at bringing awareness to the community and trying to overcome the attitude associated with those who have disabilities. One of the special needs students I was talking to told me that she wanted to become a Secretary in the next few years. With the proper education and training, she can be a productive member of society just like anyone else. This is so impressive! The mission of this school is great and carries a lesson with it that we can all learn. No person should be given up upon or told they can't do something. Francis has proven that with the right kind of education and training modified for each individual, these children can be just as successful as their non-disabled peers.

  10. The special needs school was really interesting to me because it showed a huge amount of potential for Uganda's education system. The school's structure sets an excellent example for public, as well as other private schools with regards to much smaller class sizes and their unique method of evaluating students based on disability whether its physical or mental and how severe it is, Which could possibly be translated into programs that help fully-capable students with subjects that they have the most trouble with. The school also surprised me because I expected the kids to be discouraged or sad about being disabled, because that is most likely how I would act, but all of them seemed very happy with the situation at the school, and the school seemed very well managed, and maintained.

  11. can you please give me contact information for this school? i work here in uganda with children with special needs and would like to network with this school. thank you! julie