Lamisercorbe Primary School is not your usual school. Lamisercorbe, which is located in Muhanga district, Southern Province, is both a school and permanent home to many mentally challenged children and youth. The sight of physically and mentally disabled children (some aged 30) being taught basics like bathing, feeding themselves and putting on clothes is very touching.
It is a place that does not discriminate against any one — the disabled are all welcome. In fact, some of these children, according to Leonei Mukamwezi, the founder of the school, have stayed with her for over 25 years.
Conception of idea
While working as a nurse in Southern Province’s Kabgayi Hospital, Mukamwezi was in charge of rehabilitating children with physical and mental disabilities. Just like any other person, Mukamwezi carried out her duties diligently for some years until she realized something strange: Some of the patients refused to leave hospital even after making commendable recovery. It was at that moment that she discovered that many had no home to go back to considering that some were refugees, while others had been dumped at the hospital or nearby bushes by their parents.
“Some of these children had nowhere to go after treatment so I decided to help them although I was not earning much. I convinced my husband and other family members to let me bring some of them home,” Mukamwezi explains.
The number of children that were abandoned in hospital continued to increase and so did the children at her home.
“I continued providing therapy to these children at home but realized that some of them had serious mental illnesses and needed more attention,” she says. “I had to resign my job to take care of them full time.”
Together with her husband, Mukamwezi fed, bathed and dressed the children. However, they felt that was not sufficient and thought it wise to give them their own school where they could be taught a few skills.
Birth of Lamisercorbe
“When my husband died in 2003, it became very tough for me because I could not manage to do it alone. Since I could not just give up on the children, I sought assistance from family, friends and community leaders,” Mukamwezi narrates, adding that 14 parents agreed to join her and to form an association called Handicap Rehabilitation for Development (HRD).
“I also went to the Ministry of Education and told them about my efforts. Fortunately, they came to visit my home which still had few pupils and they were impressed with my work,” Mukamwezi says.
The ministry then gave her iron sheets for the first phase of the construction of the school and also asked her to write a proposal stating how much money she would need to build a modern facility (orphanage, primary school and training centre) to which she obliged.
“I quoted Rwf120 million but ministry officials advised me to make it Rwf200 million. I also submitted my proposal to the district authorities but it was never approved,” Mukamwezi says with sadness in her voice.
Mukamwezi and her partners were dealt with a big blow and felt very demoralized. But Mukamwezi is not a person who easily gives up.
“I sold some of my property in The Democratic Republic of Congo and my car and raised Rwf 15million which I used to build six rooms. With the small allowances I earned from various missions, I continued to expand albeit at a slow rate,” Mukamwezi explains.
With the structure in place, Government officially recognized Lamisercorbe as a school for children with special needs and gave them 15 teachers. The school also gets some funding from Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
The school today has a total of 135 children with mentally disabled pupils, physically handicapped children and those with hearing and speaking impairment with every class managed by two to three teachers. The school also provides accommodation for children (from the age of two) who don’t have any other home.
The education ministry also directed the school to provide education to primary children with no impairment or disability in the afternoons. And although they follow the national curriculum, one thing perhaps that pupils of Lamisercorbe are privileged to learn is sign language.
Challenges, future plans
The school faces a challenge of mentally challenged adults who have stayed there for over 20 years.
“Some of them have the capacity to engage in vocational skills like brick laying, farming for boys and knitting and tailoring among other skills for girls but unfortunately there is no provision for it. We also need more and better facilities such as dormitories and classrooms,” Mukamwezi explains, adding that they need to keep mobilizing for more funds to facilitate further expansion.
Epiphany Nyiransengimana, the headteacher of the school, appeals to government to pay the teachers better arguing that they do more than just teaching.
What others say about Mukamwezi
Claude Sebashi, the District Education Officer Muhanga District, acknowledges the role the school is playing in special needs education and changing the mindset of parents towards people with disabilities.
“The school is promoting the right to education of all children. The district is in partnership with the school to provide special needs training in other schools especially the secondary schools that receive these children in the inclusive education programme,” Sebashi explains.
Henrietta Mukandayisenga, an old woman in the neighbourhood of this school, says Mukamwezi has always been passionate about children since her childhood.
Shamsa Iradukunda, a pupil at the school, describes Mukamwezi as a ‘parent’ who loves them so much.