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"My son has begun to speak"

Charles Sibomana, 11, has suspected intellectual disabilities. He was always mute in school and remained separate from other children. Since his teacher at Gahanga Primary school was trained by VSO, his performance is improving, he is mixing with other children, and has even begun to speak.

Charles and his mother in Rwanda | VSO VSO/Lucy Taylor

Charles, 11, who has intellectual disabilities, with his mother Viviane. She is happy that he has started to speak and interact with other children at school since his teacher was trained by VSO.

Charles Sibomana is the ninth and lastborn child of Viviane Karuyonga. Eight months after the happy occasion of his birth, however, his father died, leaving Viviane with a lot on her hands.

Around this time, she also began to suspect that her youngest son was different from his brothers and sisters.

“I thought that he may have some intellectual impairment. As he grew, he did not speak,” Viviane says.

His older brothers and sisters are very caring to him, but attitudes have not all been kind.

“There has been a mixture of treatment. Most people accept him, others think he is useless and use names. People just say what they want,” she says.

Integration in education

When he was around eight years old, Viviane decided to take Charles to school for the first time. He was still not talking.

He was placed in nursery, but when the teacher left, things did not go so well as before. Viviane explains that, “He does not like people speaking angrily to him.”

So Viviane decided to move Charles, who is today 11 years old, to Gahanga Primary, one of the schools where VSO has been training teachers in mainstreaming disability as part of the L3+ project.

His Primary 1 teacher, Esperance Niyomufasha, has been trained by VSO in how to support children with disabilities in her class. It is already a challenge for her to teach a class of 40-50 whose ages range from 7-11 years old, with few resources, let alone to engage a child with different learning needs.

“Before I was trained it was difficult to integrate him in the class. He would be separate. I learned how to integrate him by preparing special lessons and materials for him, and to encourage other children to support him,” says Esperance.

Support from other children

In class, it is clear that Charles has friends who help explain difficult concepts, and the whole class bursts into applause when he correctly answers the teacher. Her behaviour and approach is encouraging the whole class to treat Charles as their peer and equal.

Two boys using disability friendly teaching and learning materials in a class in Rwanda | VSO VSO/Lucy Taylor

Charles is supported not only by his teacher, but by friends like Claude Hakizimana

When asked about children like Charles, his classmate Claude Hakizimana, 10, says, “That child must be supported on his way. When he does not have materials I can share mine with him.”

Teacher Esperance says she can see the impact of the training she has received in her class:

Now I see Charles mixing with others – it’s a great step. I am seeing more improvement. When other children are writing he is identifying some things and learning to say a few things. He may not do it at the rate of the others but he does it at his own pace”

Teacher in class with boy with intellectual disabilities in Rwanda | VSO VSO/Lucy Taylor

Teacher Esperance, with the learning aids she has been trained to make to work with Charles in class

VSO Rwanda Country Director Papa Diouf says:

“We are really proud to see evidence of impact in our programmes, such as case of Charles Sibomana. Stories like his are what motivate us: they show that change in how a child with disabilities is supported and included can have a meaningful effect on the quality of that child’s life. They also show that there is still work to be done.

“This year VSO is celebrating 10 years of programmes working with people with disabilities in Rwanda to improve access to rights and services. We are committed to continuing this important work so more children and adults with disabilities can participate more fully in society.”

What does the future hold?

Charles Sibomana smiling | VSO VSO/Lucy Taylor

Charles is much happier at school now

Charles’ mother Viviane is delighted with his progress: “He no longer fears. He speaks. When he comes home he can tell me what he has studied.”

It is clear that Charles has a big personality and intelligence. Whilst he is reserved around large groups, with his mother he is transformed into beaming smiles.

But things are still not easy. Charles’ mother has never received an official medical assessment for him, and says that when has taken him to the health clinic she was refused a referral. She says he is a “sickly child” and complains of stomach problems. She hopes for support to find out whether and how Charles can become more well.

About the project

Charles' teacher was trained as part of VSO's L3+ project in partnership with EDC and USAID. Over the course of a year 825 children like Charles across Nyamagabe and Nyaruguru districts. They were reached through training to teachers, parents, community health workers and NCPD representatives.

Before the project, less than one in ten teachers had knowledge on special need education. Now, 87% have strategies for teaching children with special needs. 78% of teachers are confident that children with disabilities are well included in their classrooms.

Attitudes have also changed. In Nyamagabe district, at the start of the L3+ project about 4/10 teachers said children with disabilities are a burden to society – that number has now dropped to 1/10.

VSO is celebrating ten years of work on disability rights in Rwanda this International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Find out more about our work and volunteering opportunities in Rwanda.

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