In our global community, Light for the World is a force for good to be reckoned with. Their objective is simple; yet bold, comprehensive, and vast in scope: An inclusive world where equal rights and opportunities for all is no longer a mere vision, but the basic standard by which we all engage and experience life. Light for the World has assembled for itself an internationally distinguished group of trustees, leaders, ambassadors, supporters, and experts in their fields to work with communities, organizations, and governments worldwide to strategically address and champion Disability Rights, Inclusive Education, Independent Living, and Health (most notably, blindness prevention). The international organization, with headquarters based in Austria, reaches into the hard realities of developing countries, to provide the life-changing assistance required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable populations.
While all aspects of their mission are absolutely crucial, Inclusive Education is indeed pivotal. Nafisa Baboo, Senior Inclusive Education Advisor with Light for the World, is a stellar example of the priceless and empowering roles that proper, life-long education and support play in the lives of individuals, families, communities, nations, and ultimately the world. Nafisa grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, in a family with relatives who have disabilities; and she herself is blind in her right eye, with limited vision in her left eye. Her father, who is also blind, was a tremendous inspiration to her, encouraging Nafisa to develop an optimistic attitude, a sense of purpose, and confidence. “My father is friendly, with a sense of humor. He is blind, but he still joined the neighborhood watch! And he was great company for the team.” He demonstrated to her that we all have value and capabilities regardless of our circumstances. “My father guided me to become a speech therapist and audiologist,” said Nafisa. But she ran into roadblocks after becoming certified. “No one would hire me. They didn’t think I was capable.” Additionally, there were driving requirements attached to the jobs, and she would be forced to take a cut in pay to accommodate a driver. So she started her own private practice in speech therapy, and earned her Masters degree in Inclusive Education with emphasis on the inclusion of blind students in regular schools. “I wanted to support children in regular schools like I was. With the right environment and resources, a child with a disability can thrive.”
An estimated 150 million children worldwide live with one or more disabilities. Four out of five children with disabilities live in developing countries, and the statistics pertaining to individuals with disabilities in developing countries are egregiously staggering. A sample of those statistics regarding children, from the latest UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report shows:
- More than 57.2 million children globally continue to be denied the right to primary education, and many of them (49%) will probably never enter a classroom. A further 23% have attended school but dropped out, and the remaining 28% are expected to enter school in the future.
- Dropouts across all grades is 30.4% for developing countries, and 5.9% for developed countries.
- Completion rate of primary school is at 48% in developing countries, and 95% in middle income countries.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of primary school age children out of school remained at about 30 million. One-half of the world’s out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than one in five (22%) primary school-age children in the region have either never attended school or left before completing primary school
Faced with this formidable landscape, Nafisa determined that the most effective way for her to contribute to the wellbeing of children with disabilities, is to change the mind-set of the adults - educating and equipping them to empower their children / students with disabilities. In her work with Light for the World, Nafisa primarily comes in contact with teachers and program heads through trainings, researching policies and practices, advocating for those with disabilities, and her acclaimed publications on inclusive education. “Showing by example is critical to dispelling myths and negative perceptions,” she states. “Many children in underdeveloped countries are hidden because of embarrassment or they are ignored. Girls are used for housework and childcare.” As for the children, Nafisa said that, “Very often children don’t realize that they have a disability, because they have always been that way. For example, I never ticked the box for ‘disability’ because I didn’t think I had one. I just thought, I can’t see very well. I can still see a little bit, so I’m not disabled. Even the kids at my school saw me that way.” Knowledge and providing viable, accessible solutions is paramount in improving quality of life.
To strengthen the network of support for their global endeavors, Nafisa shared that Light for the World is beginning to partner with other non-profits in the U.S. “Special education is more entrenched in the U.S. Teachers in the U.S. have a higher level of education than a teacher in South Sudan, where you only need to finish 10th grade. There’s a shortage of teachers in developing countries, and we don’t have many specialists. In many universities, they don’t even offer education for specialists in speech, OT, and ophthalmology. Light for the World, will bring training to people within these countries.”
Emphasis on mainstreaming disabled students in regular schools is priority. “Girls and boys with disabilities that are being educated, mostly go to segregated boarding schools, which rarely prepares them for the real world. When children are separated from their families and typical peers they don’t get a true sample of the world. In the school environment everything is great, but you are a stranger to your family because you’ve never been at home - you’ve always been at boarding school. You’re not able to negotiate your world, and build resilience. Inclusive education, meaning schooling ALL children in a supportive environment, including those with disabilities in regular schools, brings better social, academic, health and economic outcomes.” Early childhood intervention, utilizing assistive technology, and providing vocational training are also among the program’s priorities.
In 2016, Light for the World reached 40,431 children with disabilities; 9,139 children with disabilities received school education (compared to 7,812 in 2015 - a 17% increase). And the numbers continue to grow with the implementation of their “One Class for All” campaign in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. “Light for the World is working to ensure inclusive, equitable, quality education for all by 2030.”