In Burundi, a real victory for children with disabilities
Meet Regine, a parent peer educator in Burundi, whose job is to raise awareness among parents of children with disabilities about their right to education.
November 13, 2018 by Aissatou Sy, Humanity & Inclusion|
Fabiola during an awareness raising session at school.
CREDIT: Humanity & Inclusion

The blog was produced with support from HI’s education team in Burundi

Peer education refers to an approach, a communication path, a methodology, a philosophy, a strategy, and that can be used in everyday life.

Parent peer educators are parents who enroll their children with disabilities in school. They are volunteers who give service to the community in order to raise awareness among parents of children with disabilities about the right to education for children with disabilities. They share their own experience and they support them to put their children in school, despite obstacles such as poverty and the difficulty to access school.

A mother devoted to her community

Notepad and pen in hand, Regine has just traveled several miles by motorcycle to arrive in the village of Makebuko, a province of Gitega in central Burundi. She strikes up a conversation in order to convince the parents to enroll their child in school.

Regine is a parent peer educator trained and supported by Handicap International (HI) (since early 2018, HI is now Humanity & Inclusion in many countries). Since 2012, she has been touring the neighborhoods to raise awareness among parents of children with disabilities. She also teaches in primary school and is the mother of three children with disabilities.

"The objective is for parents of children with disabilities to understand that they have to enroll them in school. We have been trained to understand the different types of disabilities and we have the skills to raise awareness among families. Not only have these trainings helped me in fulfilling my role at the community level, but they are also very useful in everyday life. They have allowed me to have the right attitude towards my own disabled children.

I now know how to behave towards them. As a teacher, they also allow me to better support students with disabilities in class. I now have a solid understanding of what inclusive education means!

It is a hard job, but I am glad that these regular awareness raising sessions change the behavior of our communities. This is proven by the fact that more and more children with disabilities go to school. A real victory!

As for other children [without disabilities], I have noticed that they have become more open-minded and they no longer treat their peers with disabilities in a negative way. It's a revolution!

But challenges remain. We sometimes travel long distances in the hills, under the hot sun or through heavy rain. We don't get discouraged easily. I am convinced that our engagement as parent peer educators has contributed a lot to the change in mentality and behavior."

Regina with Claver (Fabiola’s father) and his wife. Credit: Humanity & Inclusion
Regina with Claver (Fabiola’s father) and his wife
CREDIT: Humanity & Inclusion

“By all means, we will continue to take her to school”

Claver is one of the parents sensitized by Regine and her colleagues from Makebuko. Fabiola, his daughter, has cerebral palsy. Thanks to the parent peer educators, she is now enrolled in grade 5 at the Makebuko Basic School.

"I used to blame my wife because I was convinced that she was responsible for the birth of a child with disability in our family. But because of the parent peer educator’s visits and awareness raising sessions, my thinking has changed. At first, I did not agree [to enroll my daughter] because I did not know it was possible for her to go to school. Then, after several visits of Regina and colleagues, I finally changed my mind.

By all means, we will continue to take her to school and help her fulfill her right to education. Fabiola has really developed in terms of her academic skills and her general development and she is very involved at school and at home. The parent peer educators have changed our life and that of our daughter and it has changed the community's view of disability”.

A key role in encouraging behavioral change

The government of Burundi has identified education as a core focus of its long-term development vision. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, the current education sector plan sets out to “achieve universal primary education and to educate the majority of youth until they reach an age where they can find their place in society.”

To achieve this vision, the government of Burundi has laid out several sector priorities - including access to and equity in education through an increased support to students with special needs - by working with partners to establish pilot programs. Thanks to advocacy efforts from education actors, including HI, inclusive education is a priority of the 2018-2020 Education Transition Plan and a dedicated team has been established within the ministry to steer the development of a national inclusive education strategy in the coming years.

To tackle these challenges, HI has set-up a parent peer educators’ system to ensure that every child, particularly children with disabilities, goes to school.

Parent peer educators are elected during meetings hosted by school principals in partner schools which are supported by HI. Parents of children with disabilities participate in the meetings; they are nominated as volunteers but are not "recruited" by the project. They are then trained and equipped by HI, which gathers them every three months to discuss day-to-day issues and jointly find solutions if challenges have been met.

The closeness of peer educators with their communities allows them to overcome psychological and social barriers, which in turn allows them to address sensitive issues and initiate lasting change in behavior.

This year, 80 parent peer educators are active and supported by HI in Burundi in 8 municipalities across 4 provinces, 62% of which are women. They are between 30 and 65 years old.

Since HI launched its inclusive education programming in 2010, parent peer educators have contributed effectively to inclusive education in the country through awareness, identification, support for registration and enrollment, referencing and school monitoring of children with disabilities.

In the 2016-2017 school year, 1,174 children with disabilities were enrolled to school thanks to their support.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi

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