Mpunga (right) distributing materials for COVID-19 preventive measures
* At it assesses impact made on its early childhood education development for children with disabilities
By Duncan Mlanjira
During its assessment tour on the impact made on its early childhood education development for children with disabilities in Chiradzulu, Mangochi and Phalombe, Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) took the opportunity to spread awareness of COVID-19 as well as its preventive measures.
Project coordinator, Mercy Mpunga — who is MACOHA’s women and children programmes officer — said they thought it wise not to take the national awareness campaign for granted but to assess the situation on the ground how best children with disabilities can be protected.
“We discovered there were a lot of issues that caregivers for children with capabilities needed to know as regards to the pandemic which haven’t reached them yet,” she said.
“We had some fruitful interactive discussions in which we were able to answer some questions they had regarding COVID-19 and its preventive measures.
“The caregivers were provided with soap, hand sanitizers and washing buckets to be used at their community based caregiver centres.
The Access to Early Childhood Development and Education for Children with Disabilities in Malawi is funded by Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) at a cost of $50,000.
Mpunga said the project endeavors to strengthen the participation of parents of children with disabilities, school authorities and communities with emphasis on ensuring that children with disabilities attend school and parents are able to make assistive devices.
“As the project reached its final stages, there was need to assess the impact made and we visited parents of children with disabilities as well as caregivers in the three districts.
“During the visits, many parents are sending their children to various early childhood development centres and some are attending primary schools after MACOHA’s intervention.
Mpunga urged the parents and caregivers not to relent in sending their kids for early childhood development and education.
“It has been a very fruitful interaction with parents and caregivers,” Mpunga said. “We have observed that the project has made a tremendous impact judging from the testimonies given.
“Challenges have been presented by both parents and caregivers and together we have brainstormed on the possible solutions to some of the challenges.”
Many caregivers bemoaned lack of interest by parents to take their children with disabilities to community based care centres.
She also said the caregivers bemoaned inadequate skill services such as sign language, shortage of caregivers and in adequate play materials for their learners.
Just recently, MACOHA completed training parents of children with disabilities and other community members in cerebral palsy in the three districts in the production of assistive devices using appropriate paper technology using local resources.
This is MACOHA’s drive to further achieve its goal of empowering people with disabilities for them to actively participate and integrate in social economic development activities of their communities and country.
MACOHA worked hand in hand with parents and guardians of children with disabilities taking cognizance from researches that prove children with disabilities enjoy good health and wellbeing if taken care of from infancy.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Articles 4, 20 and 26, ask countries to promote the availability of appropriate devices and mobility aids and to provide accessible information about them.
The standard rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities also call upon States to support the development, production, distribution and servicing of assistive devices and equipment and the dissemination of knowledge about them.
MACOHA was established by an Act of Parliament — the Handicapped Persons Act 1971 Cap: 33:02 as a statutory corporation.
It operates under the general direction of the Department of Disability and Elderly Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare on technical issues on one hand and the Department of Statutory Corporation on finance and management issues on the other.
MACOHA’s vision is to empower all persons with disabilities in society and its mission is to implement government policies by providing rehabilitation programs and services and promoting public interest towards the empowerment of persons with disabilities in order to achieve an inclusive society.
MACOHA’s interventions are in the areas of education, health, livelihoods and social inclusion that include Community Based Rehabilitation programmes in 8 districts — Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Salima, Ntchisi, Dowa, Lilongwe, Dedza, Ntcheu.
MACOHA is also running livelihood programmes in which persons with disabilities are being trained in various skills including tailoring, carpentry and barbering.
After the training, they are equipped with business management skills and business start-up tools — funded by Hope and Healing International.