Ernest, 14, (pictured below) has got the sweetest smile and the friendliest nature. His brother, Miguel, 11, is just like him. They look strikingly similar; you would know they were brothers immediately.
But looks are not the only thing they have in common. Both were born with the same hearing difficulty, which meant they were unable to develop speech at an early age.
In Guinea Bissau, where the boys were born, shame and stigma face the families of children with disabilities, and is often a reason why children like Ernest and Miguel don’t receive the care they need and can’t go to school.
After Miguel was born, their father was unable to deal with the situation and left them with a relative. They haven’t heard from him since.
Out of school, Ernest and Miguel seemed destined to a life of poverty and exclusion until teachers at a Plan International Disability Rehabilitation Centre heard about their situation and offered to help.
Most importantly they were able to learn sign language so can now communicate with each other and the world around them.
Plan International’s inclusive education ‘EQuIP’ programme, funded by Irish Aid, is working in Guinea-Bissau to increase the quality of learning for all children, including girls and children with disabilities who may be left out of education.
EQuIP is increasing awareness in communities of the importance of education for all children. The programme ensures all those involved in children’s education – such as teachers, school governors, inspectors and parents – are fully trained to make schools safe, more girl-friendly and a welcoming place for children with disabilities to learn.
Through the EQuIP programme, teachers at their local secondary school have been trained in sign language and so can communicate with Ernest and Miguel.
The Guinea-Bissau sign language dictionary was developed in the past five years and has helped integrate students with disabilities into mainstream education.
Now Ernest is learning mechanics, and hopes to become a car mechanic someday.
And for the first time, the boys feel accepted.
After school, they love nothing more than to spend their evening playing football with their classmates, just as any teenager does!
EQuIP stands for:
Education: We strive for a holistic approach to education which focuses on three core priorities: improving access, enhancing quality and strengthening education governance.
Quality: We aim to improve learning outcomes for children at primary and junior secondary level, while also boosting enrolment and retention rates among children in target communities.
Inclusive: We ensure that more children, particularly girls and children with disabilities, can access and complete quality primary and junior secondary education.
Participative: We engage with all those interested in improving standards of education in schools, such as children, parents, teachers, community and government leaders, are consulted.