Supporting inclusive education in Afghanistan – a father’s story
My wife and I live in Herat. We have six children; one has a hearing impairment and three others are deaf. Until my children were born I had not had any contact with deaf people. I knew that my children would need me to support them, but I didn’t know how to do this.
I heard about an organisation working with disabled people, including deaf children. I went to find out about it. My children became involved in the programmes and started learning Afghan Sign Language. I even volunteered for this organisation for five years and learned sign language so I could support my children better.
However, I started to worry about their longer-term education. I could see that they were very intelligent and I longed for them to go to school. My oldest daughter has some hearing and the local school agreed to take her. She sits at the front and has a bit of extra input from the teacher. She is doing well. But no school would take my deaf children.
At that time the International Rescue Committee were making plans to start an education programme for deaf and blind children in Herat. They planned to select schools, train some teachers and then place some children with visual or hearing impairments into regular classes. I wondered if my children could be selected. They were! And I was chosen to be a programme officer for the hearing impairment section.
I wasn’t sure if this inclusive education method would work. Would the other children tease my children? How would the teachers communicate with my children? I had been to see two special schools for deaf children in other cities of Afghanistan and I thought maybe that was the only way. But after receiving some training on what inclusive education is and how it benefits all children, I decided to give it a go. We passed on the training we received to the teachers in the school, and we all received more sign language training. Some expert deaf adults came to train us both in inclusive education and in sign language. I was very encouraged to meet strong, confident deaf adults. I can now see a positive future for my children.
At first my children were nervous about going to school. Now they are excited and help each other get ready in the mornings. They have learned lots and help each other with their homework. I have noticed a big change in their feelings and behaviour at home and they are making more friends among neighbours’ children. Their friends come to visit or support my children in their classrooms.
At first the schools and principals were concerned about having deaf children in their classes. But after training and meetings with the families, all the teachers are now committed to making the programme successful. We now have 16 deaf children receiving education in regular schools. My colleague and I visit each classroom at least once a week. We give the teachers encouragement and more ideas and help them to solve problems. Our programme is new, and we still need to work on improving the quality of education. Also, many other deaf children in the city could be supported if we could expand the programme.
I really enjoy my work and being involved in my own children’s education. Other parents can see the positive changes in their deaf children and that the school is supporting them. However, it is not always easy to encourage these parents to become more involved, especially when it comes to learning sign language. I have contact with parents of deaf children who are not yet involved in the programme. They want their children to go to school as well.
I find it difficult to convince other professionals working on deaf education in Afghanistan that our programme is possible. Many believe that special schools or special classes are the only way. They don’t believe me. But I see the deaf children in class every day. I see that they are happy and are learning. I see teachers trying hard to find ways to communicate with deaf children. And I am also a father who sees that my own deaf children are happy and learning and making friends. I am a father who only wants to support my children in the best way I can.
This article has been adapted from a case study submitted for the IDCS book, Family Friendly!