Ghana’s Special Schools in Ruins

Dejected, desolate, distressed, in doldrums of desperation are the most probable words to summarize the plight of disability and rehabilitation centers in Ghana.

There exist some 24 special schools dotted across the country designated to train and give some economic empowerment to persons living with various forms of disabilities. But these schools live in dire straits at the mercy of charity mainly because of delay in the release of government subventions and neglect by society.

Background:

There is an estimated 2.5% of Ghanaians living with various forms of disabilities. Concern about the special need for care and protection for the disabled came to the fray in Ghana as far back as the 1960s after media reports and stories about the inhumane treatment PWDs were subjected to especially in rural areas begun gaining public attention. Myths about persons born with specific defects were judged spirit children and automatically sentenced to be killed to pacify the Gods of their villages. Several persons with disability were found chained, locked up and sometimes given concoctions to aid their quick death to avoid the stigma and burden of keeping them.

The Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah Conventions Peoples Party (CPP) administration set up a committee to investigate issues pertaining to disability in the country. One of the recommendations to government at the time was for government to take full charge of the training, welfare and employment of persons living with disabilities. The committee also had a reintegration component to its recommendations which was linked directly to economic empowerment. The idea was for government to provide a startup capital to set up these citizens and have the social welfare department, supervise their activities till they were fully independent. This saw a domination of ‘disabled’ teachers, teaching craft in elementary and middle schools. Several of these trained people were given jobs that matched with their set skills in public institutions.

Since then, Ghana has in the past recent years had several nongovernmental organizations and state recognized associations and authorities established to champion the course of people living with one or more forms of impairment. The most vibrant associations have done quite some substantial work in the areas of deafness/hearing impairments, mental/intellectual disabilities, blind/visual impairment and various forms of physical impairment.

Government has set in place a council for persons living with disability, the mental health board and the ministry of gender, children and social responsibility to oversee and support the affairs of persons with disability. The country has also ratified the persons with disability act 2006 whose moratorium ends this year for full implementation.

In addition to this, Social Welfare offices have been established in all districts across the country, to do sensitization and registration of persons with disability. Government has also set aside 2% of the district assembly common fund to cater for persons with disability in the country. The president John Dramani Mahama in his 2016 state of the nation address also promised to lay before parliament a proposition to increase the disability share of the DACF to 3%. The social net pro poor program, the Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty program established by the government of Ghana has also made provision for subsistence subventions for people who by reason of their extreme forms of disability are economically inactive.

Notwithstanding all the above, a considerable portion of these investments and efforts have gone into sensitization and advocacy leaving the very important aspect of training and empowering the person with disability to its sorry fate. Perhaps because the majority of the very people appointed to make decisions have not had a feel of disability and the challenges a person with disability must encounter in a country like Ghana to attain a decent training and be recognized enough to secure a source of livelihood.

Sorry state of the Edwinase Rehabilitation Center

My nosing around some rehabilitation centers found me in the Edwinase Rehabilitation Center, a boarding school in Kumasi in the Ashanti region. It is structured to train persons with multiple disabilities in various handicrafts including leatherwork, bead making, mat making and sewing. The structures were built in the era of the first president of Ghana and have not seen any renovation since.

The school runs along two major areas of its curricular i.e. rehabilitation and vocation, two very demanding subject areas. A term lasts four months in school with intermittent two months vacations to allow students go back home to bond with family.

I get to interact with the manager of the rehab center Mr. Modesto Ayiwoli and his first words confirm my notion. “Sensitization has been impressive. But why do we create awareness,” He question rhetorically.

“We create awareness to encourage people to bring out their children or relatives who have disabilities and this is why rehabilitations such as mine have been established. Now what is left? You sensitize, create the awareness; you ask people to bring them; now they bring them and then your training falls short. It’s like having bought all the ingredients; prepared food; invited people to come and they come and cannot eat the food. This is the situation all the institutions taking care of persons with disability without singling out mine, find ourselves. This is the missing point we have all got as a nation, regarding the training of our persons with disability,” he lamented.

Making direct reference to his school, Mr. Ayiwoli disclosed that his center had not received any subvention from government the whole year as at press time. He also indicated sadly that their monthly salaries were in arrears since January 2016. He noted that several attempts to get parents to support the education of their wards with some toiletteries and monetary contribution have not also yielded much as according to him over 90% of all ‘disabled’ children come from very poor families.

“Those who have the desire to help don’t simply have the means because I can tell you for a fact that a majority of about 99% of them come from very very poor families. Out of that number again another fact that has been established is that 80% of these children have single mothers with no fathers catering for them. Naturally a single mother with other normal children will channel her resources to her normal children leaving parental support for these children lacking. To further compound issues, you cannot enforce any measure for the child to go back home when they run out of basic needs or when their parents are not making any contributions to support their training. And imagine how you will have to feed all these children for four months with no support from the state,” He bemoaned.

He is worried the state and level of teaching that he desires for the school is being frustrated as teaching and learning equipments for the very practical based style of teaching that the school requires is not adequately available.

He also expressed worry about government’s decision to fix prepaid meters in public institutions without adding rehabilitation centers to the exempt list. The Edwinase Rehab Center now runs on a three phase prepaid meter which leaves the school in darkness whenever the school is unable to keep up with payment of utilities. To make things worse, government does not have any provisions for utility bills of special schools across the country. This leaves the bills to be shouldered out of the pockets of managers of these rehab centers which are not known to be engaged in any income generating activities.

Mr. Ayiwoli tells me he personally wrote a memo drawing government’s attention to the looming difficulty the directive would pose to special schools to no avail.

“We had to be left on the credit system just as the prisons, the army, the barracks and other essential state establishments but nobody paid heed to this. ECG brought a three phase prepaid meter meaning we must always have cash to buy our power. But since 2010 I have not received a pesewa for the purchase of electricity,” He recounted with a laughter of frustration.

Mr. Modesto Ayiwoli also divulged that compared to the prisons and other schools under the Ghana Education Service where there is a budgetary allocation of feeding students per head, special schools have no such unitary allocations. This makes government unanswerable to the amount it releases to the Edwinase rehabilitation center leaving the institution to the mercy of charity.

Another area of concern which the school is grappling with is the purchase of essential drugs for the children. Most of these drugs are not covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme. Mr. Modesto Ayiwoli and his team narrate countless experiences where he has had to sleep over in the dormitories when the children fall ill. He has also had to make out of the pocket payments for fees and bills to cater for the health needs of his students.

Factors responsible for this dire situation

The position that rehabilitation centers like the Edwinase rehabilitation center find themselves can be attributable to both systemic and social factors.

The society appears to have adopted an indifferent approach towards the welfare of PWDs shirking the responsibility to the overburdened shoulders of government. For many, it is the duty of government to see to the wellbeing of these institutions. Verifiably so, a majority of Ghanaians are not even aware of the existence of such institutions and the kind of help they require from the public.

The systemic leg of this problem that Mr. Ayiwoli harped passionately is the lack of a well structured system to make direct budgetary allocation to rehabilitation centers. No training institution under the social welfare department has a budgetary allocation specifically allocated to each institution. Their finances are attached to the financial encumbrances of the regional directors. The training institutions only receive some subventions at the discretion of the director after he/she receives monthly transfers from government.

“If institutions were to have direct budget lines, that this is your utility, this is your feeding cost per child, then this can be calculated and the money is made available. But for now, until the district director receives his money and decides where he should allocate how much, it means all these institutions operating under the director, receive nothing.”Modesto explained.

He noted that this is “an administrative anomaly that needs to be addressed.”

Appeal to Government.

Making an appeal to government Mr. Ayiwoli strongly urged the state to man up to deal with the dire situation on the ground. He also condemned what he described as the political victimization of directors and managers who come out to state the plain plight of these state institutions.

“We are not dealing with documents in an office. We are dealing with human lives and as a nation someone must speak out if we are suppose to move on. I don’t seek to talk against any government. I am talking about what affects me provided the authorities will listen with a proper ear and to find out solutions. Unfortunately when you speak people will not listen to the substance or bother to find out the truth and it degenerates into a blame game because it connotes some negativity which affects government, “he fumed.

One picture that still strums a cord in my heart is the smiles of these deaf, blind, autistic and mentally retarded children even under such deplorable conditions. I watched and dazzled when it was time for lunch break and Mr. Ayiwoli had to dash to the kitchen and back supporting to organize the children to have their bowls of gari and soup. The plight of these children and whether or not they will become an asset or burden to society lies right in this deserted land. The public cannot be faulted or pressured to support; though it will directly benefit or suffer from the life outcomes of these children. The back however stops with the state which has as part of its mandate to provide a safe environment for persons living with disabilities.

Ghana/Ultimate1069.com / Ivan Korshie Heathcote – Fumador/106.9fm