Vusumnotfo – a not-for-profit organisation in Eswatini (Swaziland) – was involved in the creation of the Inclusive Beginnings videos that EENET launched in 2020. In this interview, Vusumnotfo staff share their top tips for delivering inclusive ECDE.
What is your top advice about inclusive ECDE?
As we say at Vusumnotfo, the family is the client, not the child. Whether we are supporting a child with cerebral palsy in rural Eswatini or a child on the autism spectrum in the United States, we must recognise that the only way to be truly inclusive and do the best by that child is to actively engage with their family.
Secondly, it is important to recognise the trauma that families experience. They may blame themselves for their child’s disability, or feel angry that their child has a preventable disability. To develop a relationship with the family so as to provide a holistic educational experience, you need to acknowledge and address this trauma.
Lastly, it is important to recognise there is no ‘one size fits all’ equation for inclusive ECDE. Every situation and child is different. Each child and family needs their own file, to be recognised as their own person with their own individual plan.
Tell us about working in inclusive ECDE
In rural Eswatini, we work with families to see the small progressions their children make, the more they engage in the exercises and stimulation activities. This creates a positive cycle of reinforcement so that families become their own engines.
We began our project by asking adults with disabilities to share their stories with community preschool teachers, to help them understand the need for quality education and open their hearts to including learners with disabilities. Working with children with special needs sharpens your understanding of child development and learning, which benefits your mainstream programme activities and ultimately every child.
After we have established a relationship with the family we facilitate ways for different family members to meet up. No one can understand their situation as well as another family member with a child with disabilities. This informal support has huge impact. We do this within the home environment but also at public settings like small eat-out shops.
You do not need to be a ‘special needs organisation’. We have a broad-based programming strategy within a set geographical operation. We have no desire to go national or change who we are. Instead of piloting for roll out, we are now looking at creating a “positive demonstration at family level, for community awareness and national influence”. Ensuring children with disabilities engage in community life and attend the community preschools, and parents share personal testimonies and results (e.g., through radio interviews), will have national influence.
We do not provide medical and technical support. Instead we investigate professional partnerships. For example, we now work with a hospital doctor (who herself has a child with cerebral palsy); physical and occupational therapist in private practice; CERA, an NGO that makes orthopaedic devices; and they open their network to speech therapists, nutrition support, etc. We do not plan to employ any of these services, we would rather create partnerships.
What was your experience of being involved in the film-making project?
Our staff appreciated the sensitivity and practicality of Duncan and Oliver [EENET’s producer and film-maker]. We appreciated the scouting visit a few months before hand as that made it so much easier to prepare for the filming.
What advice would you give to others who want to make practical videos about inclusion?
The best advice we can give is to always be inclusive, not just with disabilities but also with location, and access. One of the best parts of the EENET films is that we are shown inclusive situations from multiple nations that have very different experiences of access, education, disability, etc. Something that was amazing for the children and families we work with to see was that there are children with disabilities in the developed western world. It made them redefine how they viewed disability overall. Until we showed them the films, they honestly did not believe that there were children living with disabilities outside Africa.
When planning a film you should:
Show people with various disabilities in richer and poorer contexts – don’t perpetuate the myth that severe disabilities only exist in poorer countries.
Always show the families engaging in the education of their child. We genuinely believe that the family is where the progress is made. We cannot only show the child at school.
Be clear that what works for one student may not work for another one, even in the same school.
The Vusumnotfo staff are Katherine J Gau (Director), James Tsabedze (Programme Officer), Sikhumbuzo Mkhabela (IT and M&E), Breeanna Thompson (Programme Officer) and Nomcebo Shezi (Programme Assistant) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org