Is it shame? In Vietnam when one do not have a solution then we deny the problem exists. As Mekong Plus is based right in the villages, we do meet with poor households with handicapped children, who were more or less hidden. Except for certain parents, more daring, who would fight for their children’s rights. And a few teachers who would try their best so that these children would have some sort of social life.
The connection between poverty and disabilities is quite obvious. The parents try everything to save their child, they sell their assets one by one. When nothing else is left, then the brothers and sisters would stop going to school and work as daily laborers, to pay for an ultimate « treatment ».
We have trained teachers in 27 pilot schools. At the beginning 200 children have been then be integrated in various grades. So that they could go as far as possible in their education, depending on their capacity. In every school one room has been dedicated for special classes and follow-up for these children, where they could enjoy educative toys and games, playing with the other children who come to support them.
But this program has probably reached its limits because the number of children becomes insufficient. Each year a few more move to the upper grades, to secondary school. Some other children just cannot cope. After 3 successive years in 5th grade, they stay home to be supported by their family. And when there are only 2-3 handicapped children in a school of 400 children, one must adapt the strategy. The resources are so limited.
The community as a whole must take more responsibility, and not only the school. The teachers organize a festival with many games, and the handicapped children have a place of honor. For example there are games where either everybody wins, or everybody loses. How to learn about solidarity. The villagers collect a few hundreds of euros, so that the program could continue.
More difficult: home visits. The little Khang is mute. At first he would hide behind in the little house. But after a few visits he has become very much alive and enjoys the games that Mekong Plus has brought to him. More work must be done with the community because the children in the neighborhood chase him away when he wants to play with them. The school refuses him, there are only 2 handicapped children, and in any case he feels bored. The school budget is insufficient. Thus this question for Mekong Plus: what priority should be given to children like Khang, when tens of thousands live in acute poverty?
Bernard KERVYN, the 20 July 2012