Imagine living in a rural part of Laos, where the paths are bumpy and hard to walk on without tripping on a root or stumbling in a small hole.
Now imagine traveling that path in a wheelchair. You can hardly move at all because the path isn’t wide enough for your wheelchair. You manage to go a few feet but then the front wheel gets stuck in a hole and you can’t get it out.
If these were the hurdles you had to overcome to get to school every day, how many days each week do you think you would get there? And how do you think this would impact your quality of life?
Challenges like this are not uncommon. There are an estimated 95 million school aged children with some sort of disability. But Pencils of Promise is working hard to address the situation. As they build new schools they are making sure those schools and the bathrooms nearby have ramps to get in and out, that the doors are wide enough to accomodate a wheelchair, the stalls have ample room to maneuver and transfer on and off the wheelchair, and that the sinks are accessible.
There is no way to know exactly how many lives will be impacted by this small change in building structure, but there will be many. For every year a child goes to school, they increase their income by about 10%. By making the schools accessible to all children, Pencils of Promise impacts the child, their family, and future generations.
In the words of Christopher J. Stanfill, Ph.D., Director of Learning & Evaluation,
“Building wheelchair accessible classrooms and bathrooms in Laos will not significantly increase the number of students we impact, and it won’t dramatically change the number of teachers who participate in our Teacher Support program. But one day, a girl or boy who uses a wheelchair will learn that there is an accessible and inclusive school in their community, and they will ask their parents if they can go to school. That experience is the true change and impact we strive for everyday.”
Photo credit Nick Onken