Together we can create a truly inclusive and equitable education system
An education system that functions for the most marginalized improves learning outcomes for all children.
In the communities in which CAMFED works, children and young people living with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged, facing acute barriers to learning. Our highly responsive model addresses the multi-faceted barriers vulnerable students face, ranging from gender-specific barriers and intergenerational poverty, to the additional hurdles presented by learning difficulties or disability. We work in respectful partnership with local communities, leaders and authorities to address these challenges, because no child should miss out on educational opportunities. The effectiveness of our model is proven by research conducted by the REAL Centre using CAMFED data, demonstrating that targeted support for the most disadvantaged students is a cost-effective solution that benefits all.
Identifying children with additional needs
Teacher Mentors, Community Development Committees and members of our Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support work together to identify students with additional needs, referring children for specialist assessments and signposting families to free services and therapies. This is with a view to supporting the child’s access to school, participation in class, and overall engagement in learning.
Where possible, CAMFED invests in disability aids or therapies for students, ranging from wheelchairs, specialist orthotics and hearing aids to speech and physiotherapy. Understanding that a child’s needs may change over time, every effort is made to follow up and check that the assistive devices and therapies continue to meet the child’s needs.
CAMFED’s Special Educational Needs and Disability Officer, Primrose Mandishona, works collaboratively with staff and stakeholders across the organization, leading on the design of interventions aimed at increasing the number of children with disabilities supported to access quality education. Primrose provides advice on training content for Learner Guides in areas such as needs identification, referral processes and support strategies. This helps to build Guides’ knowledge and capacity to deliver support to children and young people with disabilities.
CAMFED Learner Guides – young women graduates who return to their former schools as mentors and role models – use their specialist expertise and the trust they’ve earned among community members to reach out to children who may be in need of extra support to attend school in the first place, as well as providing them with the tools to learn effectively once they are there.
Learner Guides are active advocates:
helping to raise awareness of diverse needs
engaging with community members to overcome misconceptions about disability
conducting home visits, and
building students’ academic self-esteem and attainment by delivering a life skills and wellbeing curriculum – called My Better World – in the classroom.
On a national level, CAMFED works closely with government ministries to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are met by national school systems, advocating for inclusive policies that enable all children to learn and thrive.
Encouraging students with disabilities to aim high
Sussana, a CAMFED-supported secondary student from Ghana, was affected by Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) as a child, but has not let this hold her back from education. With encouragement and support from her Learner Guide Miriam, she’s thriving in her second year of Senior High School.
Supporting students with disabilities to build confidence
“Through the speech therapy sessions, CAMFED, my family, my teachers and community have helped me believe in myself and not to be shy. My barrier to fully participate has been removed. It is now my honor to make the best of this opportunity”
Nyasha, Form 2 student from Hurungwe, Zimbabwe has athetoid cerebral palsy, which affects his body movement and speech. He lacked confidence and struggled to communicate effectively in lessons. CAMFED provided Nyasha with a speech therapy kit and engaged Nyasha’s family, school teachers, and community in his treatment, helping to integrate speech therapy sessions into his school day.
Nyasha says the support of the school head and his English teacher has “helped me believe in myself and not to be shy”, and there is a more supportive environment and open-minded attitude toward disability in his school and wider community. Nyasha confirms, “Mr Makoni, my headmaster, believes that children with disabilities can succeed if given the opportunity.”
"A supportive community is so important for children with disabilities. Once there is no discrimination, they can excel."
Primrose Mandishona, disability rights activist, founding CAMFED Association member and Special Educational Needs and Disability Officer at CAMFED Zimbabwe
Advocating for children with additional support needs
“I deliver them [students with disabilities] to communities, stakeholders, where they can be assisted with hearing and visual aids. I’m conducting home visits as well, encouraging those parents and the learners with disabilities to proceed with their education.”
Linley, a Learner Guide in Malawi, was herself supported by CAMFED, and returned to her former school to volunteer as a peer mentor. Her deep understanding of the barriers to education that children (particularly girls) in her community face means that she is a trusted ‘big sister’ in whom students can confide, and who can follow up if they are absent from class. Her role is vital in boosting students’ academic self-esteem and helping them overcome barriers to learning and participation.
Linley is a respected leader in her community, working to raise awareness of students with diverse needs, advocating for them to be in school, and conducting sensitization among community members.
Our network of leaders in the CAMFED Association are at the forefront of our movement to secure education for every child. They come together to raise funds to support more vulnerable children through school, and engage with policymakers to ensure the needs of children with disabilities are included. Young women like Primrose Mandishona, who was affected by both poverty and disability, are now leading systems change as grassroots activists who also influence national and global policy agendas.
When I completed Senior High School, I knew I had to do something for myself and my community. I am in the process of training another physically challenged woman who is interested in bead making. In future, I’d like to expand my business by training many more women, to help them improve their lives and that of their families.
Jemima, Entrepreneur, Transition Guide and Learner Guide, Ghana
Supporting students with disabilities into fulfilling livelihoods
Jemima from Agona East, Ghana was born with a physical disability but has never let that hold her back. She graduated Senior High School with CAMFED support, and joined the CAMFED Association. Through the Association, Jemima gained business skills and trained in bead work. She received a business start-up kit, with which she launched a beaded accessories business in 2019. Jemima also started volunteering as a Transition Guide, supporting CAMFED graduates on their journey to independence. In return, she received an interest-free loan, enabling her to scale-up and employ two young women from her community. In future Jemima wants to establish a bead-making and design center to provide youth training, and create more opportunities for women and girls with disabilities.
Jemima is passionate about tackling misconceptions about disability. Every day she is proving that, with the right support and investment, the potential of young women is limitless.
I hope my story will be a huge encouragement to many - showing a person living with a disability who has accomplished much in life. I like to say: “Never be afraid to show the world who you are and what you are made of.”
Primrose is a member of the CAMFED Association, a rehabilitation technician, and a disability rights activist. She does not let her disability define her; but her experience has made her a passionate and empathetic activist for others in her situation.
Sarah's disability affects her legs and impacted her ability to travel the 6km (3.7 miles) to secondary school in rural Zimbabwe. Her school attendance improved when she was selected for CAMFED support, which included school fees and a hand-operated tricycle. With encouragement from her Teacher Mentor, Sarah is growing in confidence and aspires to be a nurse when she graduates.
Grace lives in rural Malawi with her parents and six siblings. Neither of her parents completed their education, but, recognising their daughter’s brilliance, were determined for her to be able to stay in school. They gradually sold off family land to be able to meet the costs of Grace’s education, but knew their resources would not last forever.
Lameck, along with his mother and sister, has dwarfism, a disability that has caused a painful barrier to his education. His father passed away several years ago, when he was still in primary school, leaving his mother as the primary breadwinner. Lameck’s mother is a farmer and often has to stay overnight at her work, leaving him in the care of his older sister.
Tereza is from rural Malawi. She lives with her mother and three cousins who have been orphaned. To support the family Tereza’s mother does casual work, but has found physical labor harder as she has gotten older, so can no longer do as much. With no other source of income, it seemed as though poverty would force Tereza out of school.