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MANZINI - For about two years, the St Joseph’s School has been closed due to the damage on structures during the 2021 Cyclone Eloise.

This was said by Ekululameni Rehabilitation and Training Centre Manager Duma Zwane during the launch of a disability project sponsored by the European Union (EU) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). It took place at St Joseph’s Mission yesterday. The EU has partnered with UNICEF in the education and skills development by contributing E9 million, which seeks to support the rights of children and youth with disabilities in Eswatini, by mitigating the effects of COVID-19, through increasing access to quality inclusive education.

The institution is a vocational facility that caters for people with special needs. The courses offered are; Leather Works, Consumer Science, Fashion Design, Bricklaying, Wood Work and Handicraft. Only a select few girls are currently enrolled in the school, while boys stay at home due to the damage on the institution’s infrastructure. According to Zwane, it was unfortunate that there were only female pupils at the school, as boys were not present. “We usually have an enrolment of about 60; with 30 girls and 30 boys. This is all due to that the storm of 2021 destroyed most of our hostels and, unbeknown to us, the boys’ hostels were destroyed such that they were not conducive for people to reside in,” Zwane said. The manager further stated that they had been faced with COVID-19 in 2019/2020. He said during the lockdown, pupils had to go home. Zwane mentioned that parents were persistently asking them when they would reopen, especially when rotational teaching was introduced. Zwane added that it was unfortunate that they would say their children were troubling them.


He alluded to that people with special needs were wrongly considered a curse sometimes in society. Zwane said there were some who were thought to have been bewitched when they had children with special needs. “There is a need to have a change in mindset - that having a person with special needs is no curse. These are all God’s people and they don’t belong to a lesser God,’’ he said. The manager said in 2020, the roofing of the school was made of asbestos, which was a health hazard. However, the storm that struck in 2021 resulted in most of the infrastructure being destroyed. Zwane said the girls’ hostel, dining hall, matron’s house were damaged such that government sent a task team to do an assessment. He said when they came into St Joseph’s Mission, they found disaster. Zwane said even today, some of the structures had not been rehabilitated. Nonetheless, he expressed the institution’s gratitude to government, through the Ministry of Education and Training, Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, Micro- Projects, as well as partners in EU and UNICEF, who came on board and helped renovate the structures.


“There is still more work to be done as I’ve mentioned that we don’t have our boys around due to that the boys’ hostels are in a shambles,” Zwane said. He said they were compelled to close because during the rainy season the roofs leaked, posing danger to students’ health. He added that the administration block was also affected as it had a porous roofing. Zwane said the hall also had its challenges.


Meanwhile, he said the institution had an Optical Department, which was affordable, with only E100 consultation fee required. Zwane said clients chose their own frames. However, he said there was a need for an extension and improvement of the facility. Meanwhile, UNICEF Deputy Resident Afshin Parsi said people with disabilities in Eswatini were estimated to be 176 184, which translated to 16.1 per cent of the country’s population. “The prevalence of disability in Eswatini is higher than the average found in other developing countries, which is 10 per cent of the total population,” he pointed out. Parsi elaborated that in 2020, one out of four households (22 per cent) had at least one member with disability and 82 lived in rural areas. He said there was limited coverage of social programmes like disability grant, which reached only a third of people who needed the support.


On another note, the deputy representative noted that Eswatini was one of the countries that had made progress in development of policies in line with the ratified United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. “UNICEF wishes to express sincere appreciation once again to EU for this partnership to address the impact of COVID-19 as it relates to school participation for our children with disabilities. This is in line with our shared participation for our shared values to ensure inclusive and equitable access to education,” Parsi quipped. He further encouraged partners at all levels, including parents, community leadership, teachers and development partners to all identify and perform their roles and responsibilities to reintegrate and retain young people with disabilities in schools. He also urged them to support implementation of the policies, strategies and frameworks on inclusion.


EU Ambassador to Eswatini Dessislava Choumelova reiterated their motto of unity in diversity. She said they were coming from 27 different countries with different cultures and customs. “But we are united because we believe in human dignity, democracy and human rights, and this includes the rights to education of everybody,” she said.