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Disability Empowerment

Making Education More Accessible for Kids in West Africa

Photos: Courtesy of Humanity & Inclusion

Karimu Kargbo, 14, successfully started going to St. Mary’s Junior Secondary School in Makump, northwest of Port Loko in Sierra Leone, in 2020. His access to education was almost denied at one point in this life.

When he was 6, a traditional medicine man from another town took him to train as his successor. He believed Karimu had a power to exorcise evil spirits. After three months, the situation was known to the Community-based Rehabilitation Volunteer in Makump, who supported Karimu to come back to his parents. Karimu was assessed by a mobile team from the Bo Rehabilitation Hospital, and received his crutches and a locally made hand bike.

With a one-year delay, Karimu started his primary education and graduated with highly successful scores at the National Primary School Examination.

He enjoys studying in his Junior Secondary School with his 44 classmates. 

“Business study is my favorite subject. My teacher is really nice and he talks about many successful businesses. I like to learn how to buy and sell things. I will start my business here in my village,” said Karimu. “I don’t like physical education, though. I love playing football, but I cannot run as fast as my peers. When they are running, I stand and shake my lower limbs.”

The routine

Each morning Karimu wakes up at 7 am. After taking a bath and eating breakfast (if there are any leftovers from the day before), he meets his friend Unisa to go to school together. 

During the 10 minutes it takes to reach their school, the best friends chat a lot. Unisa helps to push Karimu’s wheelchair when needed, especially during the rainy season. Karimu cannot enter his classroom with his hand bike, because there is a 20-centimeter gap from the ground to the building. He keeps his bike outside and uses crutches to reach his classroom. 

“After school I play with Unisa,” Karimu said. “I play football, balance ball, and Ludo board game. I also do my homework, help my mom cook, and read books. When there are community events I love dancing, singing and miming.

“I want to learn more, especially English. My worry is the distance to the Senior Secondary School is pretty far. I also want to study at a college in Freetown.”

Overcoming barriers

Several challenges Karimu faced while moving around and enjoying school activities led him to have a clear vision for his future. 

“I will be a minister of education,” he said. “I will take care of children. I will buy books, pens, geometry sets, cups to drink water, buckets to wash hands, and desks for them. I will rehabilitate schools, making windows big and widening doors, so that a wheelchair can enter easily. Both primary and junior secondary schools need to improve.

“I will also make my community a better place. I want to build houses where wheelchairs can easily enter and move around.”

Sierra Leone, on the coast of West Africa, has been struggling to achieve equitable access to quality education for all children. Girls and children with disabilities are the most excluded. Many initiatives are underway to ensure that every child learns. 

Karimu has been supported by one such initiative: the Girls’ Education Challenge project, supported by the UK Aid and implemented by consortium partners, including Humanity & Inclusion. The project implements various activities to help girls and children with disabilities develop to their fullest potential in a safe and inclusive school environment, and transition to the next level of their education.

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