This ambitious project sees MJL partner once again with our friends at Starfish Malawi with whom we funded the Earth Child orchard and ‘Gift a Desk.’ Starfish Malawi, a UK charity, has been an absolute pleasure to work with, and their reporting – and encouragement – has been second to none.
When the Starfish team told us about their desire to assist in the education of children with special needs and approached us with the potential of us funding the construction of a new Special Needs Resource Centre, it seemed like the perfect project, dovetailing nicely with the fan-funded orchard and the school where children are now seated at desks thanks to so many of Michael’s supporters around the world.
As we celebrate our ninth birthday on 7 August 2020 we look back at projects already completed and see how many children have been given hope and a better life through Michael’s lasting legacy of love. This one will be very special, since it’s the first time that we have reached out specifically to cater for children with disabilities. This is, of course, something that Michael Jackson did throughout his life, from ensuring that his Neverland home was equipped with facities for the disabled such as cinema seats that would cater for those children who couldn’t sit up, to the grand carrousel’s ramp for disabled visitors, to the countless disabled children he visited in hospitals and orphanages around the world.
Now, Michael Jackson’s legacy of love continues in those hearts he touched. With the ongoing help and generosity of Michael’s tireless supporters worldwide, Everland Resource Centre will consist of a 2-room classroom block replete with a spacious veranda. The block will be divided into two classrooms to cater for the beginners and the more advanced learners with special needs. The costing includes a store room for learning aids and an adjacent purpose-built pit latrine toilet block consisting of four cubicles. It will also have a ramp and wide doorways, necessary for wheelchair access.
With security in mind, Everland Malawi will be built in the Ngolowindo community, close to the clinic, the MJL-funded Earth Child orchard and the Ngolowindo Primary school.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world which inevitably sees children sustain many challenges, but none are more challenged than the disabled. In there is a real lack of special needs education due to the very large class sizes in primary schools with no extra classroom support or minimal extra-curricular support. Unlike in countries such as the UK, where extra support is forthcoming for and inclusive of children with disabilities, in Malawi, this is certainly not the case. The disabled in Malawi, especially the blind, deaf or those with cerebral palsy, are marginalised. Due to the environmental, institutional, attitudinal and economical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from living fulfilling lives, they tend to be excluded from mainstream society and placed in a position of lifelong vulnerability.
Starfish Malawi’s Disability Project has been put together in conjunction with the communities in Malawi and will be run from Malawi by their team which seeks to be inclusive for children with all forms of disability in line with the draft National Disability Policy of Malawi. Special needs teachers are provided by the government and paid for by them and the project will be overseen by Mrs Matola, Head of Special Needs Education in Salima.
Starfish Malawi already has some children within their care that are blind or deaf and they would dearly like to children with these and other types of common disability to have the chance to receive a full education, allowing them to grow in self-worth and to have a better future.
Unfortunately, there are no up-to-date statistics on the prevalence of disability in the country. Besides education, children with disabilities have problems accessing health services, mainly due to problems with mobility, neglect by guardians and stigma by health workers. There is a shortage of specialist teachers and most schools do not have specialist education equipment for children with learning difficulties. These problems naturally result in low education levels for people with disabilities, which in turn result in lower employment rates, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and having a long-lasting impact on marginalised communities.
The Malawi Key Informant Child Disability Project compiled jointly by The International Centre for Evidence in Disability and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that within the 2008 census figure of 2.4% disability among children, hearing loss was the commonest type of disability in all ages (23%), followed by visual impairment (17%), mobility problems (16%) and communication difficulties (9%). The research also found that disability is not given high priority at government level and that funds allocated to the disability sector remain grossly inadequate. The 2014 Malawi Education Statistics reported that there were a total of just 207 special needs resource centres in the country, out of a required 3,132!
Once the building is funded and built, in view of it being funded in Michael’s memory, together with the Everland dedication, there will be room for a painted MJ-related mural on the back wall of each classroom and this will be fulfilled by the same talented Malawian artist who replicated our artist’s beautiful work, in conjunction with our own talented artist, Siren.