Change & Innovation, Justice

Increasing access to education in Zimbabwe

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Barbra Nyangairi, Co-founder, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust

By Barbra Nyangairi (Zimbabwe ’16)

Through the organization that I co-founded—the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust—we are currently working on increasing access to quality education for children and young people with deafness, through advocacy for policy reform and placement of deaf young people in higher education institutions. We aim to impact more than 40,000 children who are deaf and hard of hearing and, more broadly, 600,000 children with disabilities. I am passionate about the work I do because it changes the lives of people who are deaf for the better, and it enables deaf people to take charge of their future using opportunities available to them. 

We are partnering with the Open Society Foundation and IM Swedish Partner for Development for this project. I was introduced to the Open Society Foundation while on fellowship, and they have since provided financial support to Deaf Zimbabwe Trust through the Southern African Office for advocacy for the development of the inclusive education policy. 

Since my fellowship, we’ve accomplished the following goals:

  • Contributed to the development of a countrywide inclusive education policy to be rolled out by 2020. The policy will positively influence the education of over 600,000 children with disabilities in Zimbabwe, as estimated by UNICEF. 
  • Established a sign language syllabus for early childhood education up to third grade
  • Worked with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education in developing a Curriculum for Sign Language and Sign Language Interpretation. This is the first in the country and was inspired by lessons learned during the fellowship. 
  • Created a first-of-its-kind pilot program, which has so far helped seven deaf young people enroll to study for a diploma in social work with a local university and two to enroll to study for a diploma in education. 

While my work today has not substantively changed from when I was on fellowship, the fellowship made my work richer and better. During my fellowship, I realized that each one of us has a part to play in making real the EF mission. I realized that without equality and inclusion, a just and peaceful society cannot be built. The fellowship gave me a picture of inclusion that has enabled persons with disabilities to thrive and the presence of policies for persons with disabilities that have helped create a just society. These values were exemplified by the schools for the deaf and colleges and institutions that provide support to the deaf community that I visited on fellowship. Throughout the fellowship, I realized that a prosperous world could be achieved if everyone is able to contribute effectively, and this is done through the creation of an enabling policy environment. 

Being part of the fellowship network has influenced my work in a number of ways. Iron sharpens iron, and being part of this vibrant network has allowed me to meet with leaders in my field from whom I have drawn lessons and shared ideas. We have been able to find common ground in the area of education. I have also been able to access resources that I would otherwise not access if I were not part of the fellowship, and these have stretched me professionally. For example, I followed with interest the EF workshop on education with Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, and how this could apply to children with disabilities.  

Barbra Nyangairi (second from the left) with the first group of young people who are deaf and hard of hearing to train in social work at a local college, their Sign Language Interpreters and note taker.

In early 2018 and 2019, I worked on a project with Jude Udo Ilo (Nigeria ’16). In advance of the Zimbabwe election, I was part of a team that set up and implemented the Zimbabwe Election Situation Room for which I provided project management support. Jude provided technical support and mentorship support for the project, which ended up being a success. The support was in-person as well as virtual. The success of the Zimbabwe Situation Room 2018 was, to a large extent, due to his support of the process. 

Finally, the network has provided support for me at a personal level. As the political situation in Zimbabwe is not stable, and at times violent, Fellows, who have become friends, have been a source of support.

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