KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
WHILE many young people are consumed by the prospects of making money, Mwansa Bwaleâ€™s passion is to advocate for the rights of children with special needs and ensure they have equal opportunities in life as any other child.
Her passion led her into establishing the Mwansa Bwale Foundation, an organisation that specifically deals with the plight of children with special needs as well as those from vulnerable homes.
Her foundation has since adopted a school in Lusakaâ€™s Linda township called Benevolence Special Needs School. The community school, according to Mwansa, 27, was almost abandoned when she decided to use it for her project.
â€œI have always been passionate about children, especially those with special needs or those less fortunate than I am. I live around that area and I noticed that the school was almost abandoned, yet there are a lot of children with special needs who do not access education for various reasons,â€ she said.
Born in May, 1987, Mwansa said she consulted the authorities at the school as well as the board on her plans for her foundation to run the facility and they agreed.
Mwansa was born in Choma but raised in Botswana where she started and completed her secondary education before relocating back to Zambia in 2006. Mwansa enrolled at the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA) for a course in law and human rights.
After NIPA, Mwansa enrolled at the University of Zambia (UNZA) for a Bachelorâ€™s degree programme in special education, which she completed in July this year.
â€œMy passion for wanting to help children with special needs and those with disabilities led me to take my field of study and I am glad I did because it has given me a professional insight on how I can effectively help contribute in a small way to the well-being of children in my community,â€ Mwansa said.
She said her foundation aims to dispel misconceptions surrounding children living with special needs, especially that most communities stigmatise them.
â€œIn my community, I realised from talking to various people that parents who have children with physical disabilities keep them in isolation. Many parents do not believe that a child who is disabled also has a right to access proper education because they feel it is a waste of resources,â€ she said.
The foundation has been working with parents and guardians within Linda township about the need to ensure that children with special needs and those with disabilities access education for free.
She said the foundation also conducts home-based care services in form of physiotherapy sessions for the children. Parents and guardians are also trained in life skills to help them provide for their families.
â€œTogether with parents, we are trying to find ways on how best to help them raise their children so they can lead normal lives and enjoy their childhood because they too have a right just like any other child,â€ she said.
Since the foundation took over the running of the community school, over 100 children have been enrolled at the institution. Mwansa said although the main focus is on children with special needs, the school also admits children from vulnerable and child-headed homes.
Mwansa said the school is open from Monday to Friday.
Because majority of the children come from impoverished homes, the school also tries to provide breakfast. Mwansa said together with her team of volunteers who help at the school, the teachers have made sure that they have created a conducive environment for the children.
However, Mwansa said because the foundation is not funded, the running of the organisation relies on support from individuals and other well-wishers to meet the needs of the children at the school.
â€œThe student-teachers and caregivers at the school all work on voluntary basis because we are not funded. However, they are as committed to their work as I am to ensure that the children are accorded the best opportunity to education as possible,â€ she said.
She said some of the challenges that the foundation is facing is transportation of the children to and from the school because most of them are disabled and in need of wheelchairs.
â€œThe majority of our pupils are disabled but do not attend class regularly because of transportation challenges. It takes a lot of work for their parents and guardians to physically carry them to and from school. Currently, only 50 attend classes on a regular basis,â€ she said.
Mwansa, who is one of four siblings, said the school is in need of sponsorship to help it provide daily meals for the children.
â€œTeaching and caring for children with special needs requires teachers with passion for what they do and we want more of such teachers at the school. These children need to feel and know that they too belong and are loved,â€ she said.
In a bid to address some of the challenges, Mwansa, who is also a mother of one, said she is currently working on modalities to partner with Government through the line ministry on how best to improve the welfare of the children at the school.
â€œI am not in formal employment now. My fulfilment comes from taking care of these children. I have big plans for these children because I would want the school to grow into a boarding institution as well so that we accommodate as many children as possible. It would be best if we could acquire a bigger land for the school project,â€ she said.
Apart from running the school, Mwansa, who is engaged to be married, is also an active blogger with over 22,000 followers on social media. She is a motivational speaker and life coach.
KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka