Seven-year-old Aminata finds her wooden school desk by feeling her way along the furniture in the room.
Her teacher hands her a piece of paper with braille on it before writing the same information on the blackboard for the rest of the class. Aminata tilts her head back, hanging onto her teacher’s every word. She raises her hand to answer questions. She doesn’t let her disability get in the way – just like her classmates, she’s inquisitive, attentive and playful.
Aminata was born blind, as were her parents and three of her siblings. Before attending the inclusive school in Senegal, she spent her days sitting at home while her parents went begging to support their family. She was too young to help with family chores or to go out by herself. Now, her day has structure and purpose.
Each morning, she packs her blue braille board into a bag and is collected by a woman who walks her safely to school. There, she joins her friends in the same lessons. When the other children raise their chalkboards in the air for the teacher to check their work, Aminata does the same with her braille board, allowing her work to be assessed in the exact same way. Here, Aminata is no different, and that instils in her a huge sense of confidence and self-worth.
Photo © Peter Nicholls
I want to keep going to school – I want to be a teacher and teach French. French is my favourite subject.
The difference an education makes
“I like my teacher and I want to be just like her. She wears beautiful clothes. I know because I touch her clothes to find out.”
After school, Aminata plays at home with her large extended family. She moves quickly and comfortably around the familiar environment, and jumps with ease over huge cracks in the ground. “Aminata is much happier now that she goes to school,” says her mother. “I hear her singing, and she brings things home from school, such as sticks to practise counting with. I want her to stay in school and learn a lot of things, so when she is older she can get a job and help support her family.”
Photo © Peter Nicholls
The benefits to Aminata in being educated alongside her peers are invaluable. Being part of the school, and learning with her friends, makes her feel included and valued. This helps her to thrive, and she’s developing into a happy, confident child. A mural painted on the wall of the school says it all: “Mon handicap, ma motivation.”
From policy to real change
It’s not always easy to show the journey from policy decision-making to real change in people’s lives. But Aminata’s story is a perfect example. Working with Sightsavers, the Senegalese government instigated the inclusive education project, trained the staff and enrolled the children. Aminata went from sitting at home all day to getting an education. When she’s finished schooling she’ll not only have the skills to live independently, but she’ll also be employable and able to contribute to the family finances. Her whole family will benefit. The difference in their financial situation will be significant, and the difference in their lives will be immeasurable.
The stories of children like Aminata are what motivates us and drives our campaigning work. All children with disabilities deserve to access education, just like their peers. If you agree, sign up to Put Us in the Picture and help make it a reality.