How we're supporting disabled girls during a pandemic

Ninah Lisanza

In Kenya, we’ve been working to help offer educational pathways to girls aged 10 to 19 who may not have had opportunities to learn. It’s part of our work on the UK Aid funded Girls’ Education Challenge - Leave No Girl Behind programme named Education for Life (EfL).

We’ve been working as the disability inclusion expert in a consortium led by Action Aid International Kenya (AAIK) and in partnership with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). Together, we’re addressing some of the barriers to girls’ education.

What is Education for life?

The project supports 10 – 19-year-old disabled girls, who have never attended school or have dropped out without gaining basic education. The girls require an intervention before they can resume education or begin work. 

The programme offers numeracy and literacy classes, which is usually for six to nine months. It also offers life skills and career guidance which encourages girls to access vocational and enterprise training. This provides a stepping stone towards employment and economic independence. The project has three aims: learning (literacy and numeracy), transition and sustainability. 

How does the project support disabled girls

Every learner is different, and every learner matters. So, the project creates personal development plans dependent on a girl’s specific needs. The catch-up centres provide each girl with a unique support system. This is in the form of educator facilitators, teacher aides, mentors, childminders and role models. The educator facilitators, with the support of teacher aides, deliver the literacy and numeracy curriculum. The mentors offer life skills in addition to psychosocial support. At the same time, role models support during career counselling sessions. 

What's our role in the project

As the disability inclusion expert, we provide technical advice to ensuring all partners include disability in their activities. This helps ensure girls with disabilities are not left behind. This is done by advising on the importance of mainstreaming disability in all activities and partner staff training. We also advise on the procurement of assistive devices, among other things.

Adapting during the pandemic 

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on learning and access to education. On the EfL project, the catch up centres closed when the coronavirus first broke out. To make sure the girls were still supported, the community-based mentors and educator facilitators reached out to them through phone calls and text messages. This was to offer essential psychosocial support and help them continue to learn at home. The girls were also provided with workbooks. Every week they were reached out to by the educator facilitators and mentors. They gave them small assignments over the phone to aid studying at home.

Providing dignity kits

The pandemic has had a substantial economic impact on low-income households. It also increased safeguarding risks, especially for girls. So the project provided dignity kits to the girls, including items like sanitary towels, soap and underwear. This relieved some additional stresses of having to source these items for themselves.

Using radio programmes

Targeted radio programmes were also broadcast in Kisumu county. This provided an opportunity to mobilise communities to participate in the project. We hope they become advocates for community support for girl’s empowerment and inclusive education. The communities were also sent messages with information about covid-19 prevention and share advice on maintaining general wellbeing of the girls. This includes like information about where to report safeguarding cases.

Returning to a "new normal"

The messages of support to the girls demonstrated the project was still there to help them. In September 2020, the catch-up centres were able to reopen, with stringent safety and cleanliness measures in place.