Parents protest as disabled childrens’ school faces closure

The parents of pupils at Male’s Care Development Centre (CDC) gathered at the artificial beach on Thursday, imploring the government to fulfil its obligation to provide their children with an education.

Amongst the placards held aloft, some read, “Don’t deprive us of education”, whilst others asked “Should disabilities be a reason for being maginalised?”

More specifically, one sign read “Give the CDC a building”.

The Maldives’ only specialist school for disabled children is facing closure after the government failed to follow up on a verbal agreement to extend the lease on its new premises, Deputy Director of the Care Society Aishath Looba explained.

“All children with disabilities should be able to go to school, and the government schools don’t have the opportunity for all of them…a lot of children who come to the Care Society have severe disabilities and it is the only service they receive in the country,” said Looba.

“If the Care Society could not continue with the services provided at the CDC, a lot of the children would have no other place to go. The government are obligated to provide those services for them.”

With finances for the current premises only secured until December, the 41 children – of varying mental and physical disabilities – are facing a future without their constitutional right to an education free from discrimination.

Up until July this year, the Care Society had been running the school from a rent-free premises, but the ending of this agreement has seen the group forced to find an additional MVR48,000 (US$3,100) a month.

The government has provided a new building – just yards from the site of yesterday’s protest – but the extensive repairs needed have meant that the building is unsuitable without substantial investment.

“Renovation is not the word – we have to construct the building,” said Looba

With the lease on this new property set to expire in 2015, Looba explained that this uncertainty was deterring new investors.

“We have been trying to increase the duration of the period, a lot of people have said they could help if the period was longer – say 20-30 years.”

“There’s no choice left without the school”

One parent at today’s demonstration explained the great sacrifice she and her husband had made to bring her children to Male’ from Noonu Atoll to receive the education unavailable to them in the atolls.

“As a parent, I believe even children with disability have to become part of society,” said Ameena, who estimated that up to half of the pupils had been brought to Male’ solely to attend the CDC.

“There’s no choice left without the school. When the CDC closes, the only choice is to return to the island, there is no sustainability in Male’.”

Looba urged the government to decide whether it considered a specialised school important, regardless of who provides these vital services.

She went on to suggest that the verbal agreement for lease extension given earlier this year may have simply been a government ploy to prevent similar demonstrations.

Looba also cited political state of the country as one of the reasons why new sponsors for individual children had been hard to come by in recent months.

“Rent is secured up to the end of december – half from Universal, some from Bandos, and some from the Islamic Ministry. But if we have to try so hard to secure the rent, how can we run the programmes?”

“When we started we had to beg the parents to send their children to school, now the parents are coming and begging us to take their children to school. We have come a long way and the Care Society deserves more respect and support from everyone, especially the government,” she explained.

“There are so many thousands of kids who really require support and are not getting anything special in the islands. This is an example for all parents that they can be an advocate for their children, we want to see parents in the islands saying you should take our children to school.”

“We won’t stop it – even if we don’t get any support – we are going to continue that work.”

At the time of publication Minivan News was awaiting response from the Ministry of Education, whilst ministers from the Housing Ministry were not responding to calls.