Since 1981, Loto Taumafai Society for People with Disabilities (LTS) has provided quality education, rehabilitation and support for children and people with disabilities.
With valued assistance from donor and volunteer organisations, the thriving NGO has paved the way forward for inclusive education in Samoa. By Shivani Shama
According to Principal Lagi Natanielu, children with disabilities often face numerous challenges within mainstream education facilities, with some students with disabilities choosing to discontinue education altogether.
She says, “As you would know in any community, people with disabilities are marginalised and can face stigma from others, so we strive to provide a safe environment for our students where they feel accepted, valued and cared for.
“I believe that in recent years there has been a growing awareness and acceptance for people with disabilities in the community. We always try to add value to what we do, whether it’s through community engagement, engaging our parents through our Parent-Teacher Association or through our inclusive curriculum.”
According to UNICEF’s 2010 Pacific Children with Disabilities Report, children with disabilities in the Pacific who attend main stream education facilities, often attend only for a few years before discontinuing their learning. Only a small minority progress on to secondary school, meaning that the efforts of LTS and other like-minded organisations are crucial for the livelihood of people with disabilities in the Pacific.
Natanielu explains, “Our doors are open to children within a wide spectrum of disabilities. This includes children with physical and sensory impairments, Down Syndrome and Autism. At the moment, Samoa does not have a curriculum catering specifically for students with disabilities so part of what we do is to see how we can adjust and adapt the Ministry of Education’s curriculum to meet the needs of each of our students.
“Working with people with disabilities, especially children, can be very challenging, but at the end of the day to see them laughing and having fun whilst learning, makes it all worth it. The biggest reward is to see them flourishing and making progress each day.
“I think the most important thing we need to remember is that each and every child has the capacity to learn, even if they learn differently. My vision for the students is that when they leave school, they will be confident to do something meaningful in life that makes them feel valued as productive members of the community.”
LTS has been a VSA partner since 1998, with 13 volunteers in that time. Currently, Jan Kennington is working as a Special Education Adviser.