Aggrey is busy learning the alphabet.
The 6-year-old grips a foam letter Z inside the Deafblind Unit at Buckley High School in Iganga, Uganda. He feels around to find the matching cutout shape, and when he fits the right pieces together his face lights up with a wide grin.
Aggrey, who is deafblind, is one of approximately 43,000 students in Uganda with special needs benefiting from a literacy program managed by Perkins International.
Since 2015, Perkins International has administered the special education component of the Uganda School Health and Reading Program, a U.S. government-funded initiative designed to improve reading and health education.
Perkins has trained hundreds of teachers, administrators and school inspectors, equipping them with specialized skills they need to support children with disabilities – including those with visual impairment, multiple disabilities and deafblindness.
“It’s our role to ensure children with disabilities are included,” said Angela Affran, Perkins International’s Africa programs coordinator. “Literacy is key to help children like Aggrey grow up and lead more independent lives. We are already seeing positive results.”
Currently, many children in Uganda aren’t learning to read and write. In this developing East African nation, poverty is widespread and class sizes are large. In one rural region the average class has 117 students, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which funds the School Health and Reading Program.
Children with disabilities face even steeper challenges. Many teachers lack the knowledge and skills required to meet their unique needs, so students who are blind or otherwise disabled are vulnerable to being excluded from classroom activities and falling behind.
Perkins International is working to change that, in cooperation with the Ugandan government.
Francis Odongo is one of four teachers at the Bishop Willis Demonstration School in Iganga who received special education training.
“This new knowledge has helped our teachers help their students with special needs,” he said. “They now know how to assess student performance and decide which particular teaching method to use, depending on the student’s disability.”
In addition, Perkins International trained Bishop Willis’ staff in brailler repair, and helped establish vocational training programs for students at the school’s Resource Center for the Blind.
“Perkins has helped this younger generation of students obtain an education,” said Odongo.
The School Health and Reading Program also includes a health education component focusing on HIV and AIDS prevention. Altogether, the educational initiatives funded by USAID have reached over 1.5 million children in 3,500 schools in Uganda since the program began in 2013. The five-year effort will end in May 2017.
“The world needs more well-trained teachers,” said Michael Delaney, executive director of Perkins International. “With the help of USAID and the Ugandan government, we’re doing our part to ensure that more children with disabilities receive the education they need to thrive.”