Rising Up to Save Lives and Empower Children with Disabilities

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Helping children in Ethiopia protect themselves from deadly diseases

More than 62 million Ethiopians do not have safe drinking water, and a child in Ethiopia dies from waterborne diseases almost every hour. Teaching children in Ethiopia about water safety is critical to save their lives and reduce the number of children who become seriously ill from preventable waterborne diseases.

Right To Play works with youth clubs in Ethiopia to make water safety education available for all children. These clubs use peer-to-peer education to share disease prevention and water safety information that helps children protect themselves and their families from communicable and water-borne diseases.

Ife is a peer-educator at a school for Deaf children and children with disabilities in Addis Ababa. She teaches her peers in Ethiopian Sign Language.

Children play games where they learn how to correctly wash their hands to remove viruses and bacteria, how to identify the safety of a water source, and how to avoid spreading diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, and COVID-19 to one another when they are sick. Children take the lessons they’ve learned and share them with their peers, families, and communities to save lives.

Every child should be able to benefit from these vital lessons. To maximize the inclusivity of these clubs, in 2015 we converted the disease prevention curriculum into Ethiopian Sign Language, and helped local educators adapt the games to be played by children with a wide variety of disabilities ranging from learning and cognitive disabilities to musculoskeletal and mobility issues. Making these games as accessible as possible empowers children with disabilities to take their well-being into their own hands.

The clubs also bring children and youth together to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities, including improving the accessibility of school infrastructure, breaking down stigmas around disability, and supporting their full participation inside the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Many of the accessibility improvements they advocate for benefit all children, improving a school’s water and sanitary facilities in ways that protect every student.

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After piloting these innovations in schools for Deaf children and children with disabilities in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, we are expanding them to Oromia Region, one of the most deprived and impoverished regions of Ethiopia. Rural communities in Oromia are especially at risk from waterborne diseases due to a lack of drinking water and sanitation facilities.

Over the next four years, Right To Play will reach more than 15,000 children in Oromia with accessible, inclusive peer-to-peer education that will protect their health, teach them their rights, and help them to get the quality of education they deserve.

Only 6% of schools in Oromia Region in Ethiopia are equipped with accessible handwashing stations that let children with disabilities protect themselves from deadly diseases.

Deaf children and children with disabilities are deeply stigmatized in Oromia, and few complete primary education. Girls with disabilities face additional barriers due to gender discrimination.

Even when children with disabilities are able to resist discrimination to attend school, there is a crucial lack of accessible infrastructure to support them. Only 6% of primary schools in Oromia have handwashing facilities that are accessible for children with disabilities. And the number of primary schools that have water sources and toilets that are accessible to children with disabilities sits at 16% and 38% respectively.

This limited infrastructure makes the advocacy and disease-prevention education done by Right To Play youth clubs even more urgent, as children with disabilities face the triple barriers of stigma, limited accessibility, and increased risk of illness barring their way to successfully completing their education. We cannot accept a world in which these children are left behind.

More than 15,000 children in Oromia will experience better education and health from the advocacy of Right To Play youth clubs.