Our Special Educational Needs (SEN) programme offers free education, physiotherapy and occupational therapy to more than 140 children across the Jinja district. Children with disabilities are often ostracised from society and so we work with communities to break down some of the traditional misconceptions about disability and empower them to understand and support their children to realise the individual, full potential. The programme consists of a number of different projects including a residential unit, social communication disorder group, education services, outreach therapy clinics and partnerships with other organisations to share skills and expertise.
The SEN programme has a team of a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, specialist teacher and two live-in matrons. Our staff work across four clinical settings using an adapted SEN curriculum to ensure that our services enable children with disabilities and their families to have an improved quality of life. All of these services are free of charge.
We want to be part of the movement that changes attitudes towards disability.
“Children living with disabilities and their families have an improved quality of life through education, therapy and community sensitisation”
Soft Power Education Strategic Objective Two
- 12.3% of children in Uganda aged 10-19 have functional disabilities. This is approximately 2.5 million children, yet only 9% attend primary school and 6% attend secondary school against a national average of 94% and 25% respectively.
- The Uganda Ministry of Education & Sport promotes inclusive education but this hampered by limited capacity, limited number of SEN teachers, non-inclusion of special needs in the teacher training curriculum, poor supply of scholastic materials, ill-funding and poor teacher motivation.
- While the Government of Uganda encourages inclusive education, there is no policy requiring it.
- Children with disabilities (CWDs) face many other barriers accessing education aside from the inadequate infrastructure and physical access, including discrimination, negative attitudes and stigma. Violence amongst CWDs is not uncommon, even from parents.
- Many view CWDs as ‘uneducable’ and as having no economic value so families don’t invest in their education.
Kyomya Residential Unit
For those where access to school is a barrier, Soft Power Education provides safe, secure housing for 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) at Kyomya Residential Unit which allows them to live on site at a government school with special educational facilities. During term time, the children are cared for by our wonderful matrons, Hajab and Susan. Our specialist teacher and occupational therapist also visit the unit weekly and provide one-to-one support to ensure each child is reaching their individual targets.
Social Communication Disorder Group
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are often the hardest children to locate, diagnose and support in Uganda due to the stigma surrounding the disorder. In November 2016, with the help of a highly specialist Speech & Language Therapist, we set up a Social Communication Disorder walk-in group for children presenting with characteristics similar to that of a child with ASD. We first work on building positive relationships – initially through intensive interaction, and then by providing a range of stimulating and engaging activities, in a safe and pressure-free environment.
We work to support parents by addressing specific difficulties they are experiencing within the home and local community, and by introducing effective strategies to manage challenging behaviours such as communication systems like Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).
We provide a safe and well-resourced learning environment for 6 children with disabilities at Kyabirwa Children’s Centre. These pupils are children from the local community who have been ostracised by their mainstream schools because of their disability. We know that children with additional needs learn most effectively and successfully when learning is fun and exciting, so we offer a multi-sensory curriculum in a traditional classroom style setting. These children would otherwise be kept at home and uneducated because of their disability. Wherever possible, pupils are later integrated into the mainstream education system by providing support and sensitisation to government schools.
We also aim to support two mainstream government schools (Walukuba West Primary School and Kyomya Primary School) who are already providing education to children with special needs. Class numbers tend to be very large at these schools and so our specialist teacher provides small group and one-to-one education programmes for these children to ensure their individual needs are being met. We also support these partner government schools in delivering quality special needs education.
Outreach Community Therapy
The therapy team run outreach clinics at four different locations every week, offering free physiotherapy and occupational therapy services for children with disabilities.
We understand that parents are an integral part of any child’s multi-disciplinary team and are often the most influential agent of change in a child’s treatment plan. Thus we work closely with parents and families during clinic hours to support and empower them to provide home-based therapy for their children in-between sessions with our therapists. We are continually inspired by our parents’ changes in attitude towards disability and how involved they are in the therapy sessions to improve the quality of life for their children.
These clinics also serve as a means of assessing and referring children to hospitals or other NGOs or organisations for medication, surgery or specialist appliances. We provide a key service as a bridge between families and other services.
Training & Sensitisation
Throughout the year we run a range of training sessions for parents and other practitioners on understanding specific disabilities, traditional beliefs, stigmas and managing specific conditions. The aims of the trainings are to educate and empower parents and practitioners in understanding disability and giving them the tools to provide the best quality service to the children that they support. We want to be part of the movement that changes attitudes towards disability.
You don’t need specific SEN experience to volunteer with the SEN team although this, of course, is not discouraged.
One Day and Long Term volunteers are welcome to assist our specialist teacher with adapted lesson plans at Kyabirwa Children’s Centre which runs on Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 12.30pm. As each of our children has different needs, we are always grateful for extra hands in the classroom. Before entering the classroom to work with our special needs children, it is important to speak to our specialist teacher about how you can best support the education programme. Please note that to ensure that the children are learning in a conducive environment, the number of volunteers assisting will depend on the number of children in class each day.
Volunteers are always welcome to visit Kyomya Residential Unit and work with the children after school has finished. Our volunteer-led after school clubs continue to be incredibly popular and give the children a chance to explore sport, games, arts and crafts, music and drama activities that they do not get at school. Keeping the children occupied after school also gives our matrons a chance to complete their daily tasks uninterrupted!
If you are a volunteer with specific SEN experience, contact us to discuss where your skills can be best put to use.