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Helping to change perceptions of disability

Inclusion
Madagascar

Norcia is fortunate; she is thriving at school thanks to her access to inclusive education. At 17, she is also an ambassador for HI, helping to promote disability inclusion in Madagascar.

Norcia is standing outside her school, smiling. Children are sitting on the forecourt.

September 2023, Mahanoro. Norcia arrives at school and joins her classmates before the start of the lessson. | © Mangafeo / HI

Norcia is 17 years old. She lives with her family in Mahanoro and attends the Ampampanambo elementary school in her village. Norcia has been deaf since birth and, after some initial difficulties keeping up with her classmates, she now benefits from a more inclusive pedagogy thanks to Madame Santonie, her teacher, and is making progress every day. Norcia has also been an Inclusion ambassador for HI for several months now, a role she takes very seriously as a means of changing mentalities on the Grande Ile!

Promoting inclusion so no-one is left behind

As a child with hearing loss, Norcia didn’t always have the opportunity to go to school, although she's always wanted to. For some years now, HI has been working in Madagascar to improve the inclusion of children with disability in the education system, training teachers in inclusive pedagogy and, in some cases, sign language. Santonie Nivoarisoa, better known as Madame Santonie, is one of the teachers to have benefited from this training.Ms. Santonie explains that inclusion is a very important part of her approach to teaching. As well as Norcia, she also teaches a child with vision loss. Her main concern is finding the best way to get learning accross and ensure that all children understand what is being taught. 

“I have no problem with teaching children with disabilities, as I myself have a daughter with a disability. Before Norcia came to my class, she was in a special class, and before I gained sign language skills, she was demotivated. I remember when she didn't come to class for a whole week because she was having trouble following the lessons", says Madame Santonie.

Since her sign language training, Mrs Santonie confirms that Norcia participates better in class, and both have seen real progress. She tell us that Norcia is a highly motivated child with a passion for learning who will pursue her education as far as possible, family and financial constraints permitting.  Ms. Santonie has also noticed that inclusion has created a new dynamic in her class:

"The sign language communication we use in class has got the other students interested. They're starting to understand the language. They're very curious about inclusion. During break time, we take a few moments to learn some new words in sign language. Then, it's Norcia's turn to help her friends.”

Committed to changing mentalities

As part of one of its projects, HI is aiming to create a network of ambassadors to promote inclusion among the community, and especially among children. For several months now, in addition to her school studies, Norcia has been part of the team!

When she talks about it, Norcia admits that the concept is still new to her, but that she is gradually getting to grips with her ambassadorial role. She knows that, as a disabled person herself, she has a role to play in raising awareness about the rights of children with disabilities among children and young people of her own age. 

"I enjoy sharing my experience. No child should discriminate or be discriminated against. Now that I'm at school, I can see the many benefits that inclusion brings. That's why I'd like to encourage my friends to go to school, and the parents of disabled children like me to send their children to school. It's important for me to show that anything is possible even if you have a disability, and that children with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else." 

As well as raising awareness of children in school, Norcia also meets with adults in the workplace to promote the employment of people with disabilities. In 2023, for example, she took part in an awareness-raising day at a bank in Madagascar where she was able to meet the teams, learn about the environment and discover a number of career paths... At the end of the day, Norcia reminded everyone to look beyond a person's disability. She asked recruiters and companies to look carefully at the skills mentioned on CVs, not to discriminate or ridicule anyone, and to welcome candidates with disabilities as they would any other candidate. 

"I would also like to say to people with disabilities that they are not alone. They shouldn't get discouraged because anything is possible when you put your heart and soul into it".

Norcia doesn't yet know what she wants to do when she finishes her studies. At the moment, she is interested in the idea of teaching sign language, like the trainers who trained the teachers at her primary school and helped her to learn.

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