After nearly three decades of rendering support services to the hearing-impaired children in Namibia, the Association for Children with Language, Speech and Hearing Impairments of Namibia (CLaSH) is closing shop at the end of this year.
They will then be handing over the mandate of spearheading the specialised early education of the hearing impaired to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.
Founded in the late 80s as a non-profit welfare organisation by a group of concerned parents of children with communication difficulties and some experts in the field, the association has been offering services such as screening for hearing in children, provision of hearing aids, speech and language development, parents' guidance and counselling, public awareness, training workshops and seminars as well as specialised early education, amongst others.
CLaSH started the first, and to date, still only Namibian specialised pre-school unit for deaf children in Windhoek in partnership dovetailed between the ministry of education, as well as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare. The pre-school unit provides holistic specialist support to deaf children, and affords them an opportunity to learn just as easily and as much as any other child. Most children with language, speech and hearing impairments are neglected by their families, particularly in poor rural homesteads, which deny them equal access to health, education and equal opportunities to reach their full potential in life.
Since its inception, more than 150 children benefited from specialised early education at the CLaSH Unit, and the relevance and value of this early intervention has been widely acknowledged and recognised.
Over the years, CLaSH has grown from strength to strength, starting as an enthusiastic self-help group and developing into a well-known, respected and accountable service provider. Moreover, the association has maintained and expanded national and international contacts, explored and pursued new ideas, and developed a variety of innovative approaches. Membership in the association has been open to people from all language groups and from all walks of life. The association will discontinue direct delivery of educational services this year, and begin to operate as a trust by 2022. It relinquishes its mandate to the ministry of education, which will take on the tall order to facilitate specialised early care and development of hearing-impaired pupils. The ministry is proud of this transition, which models inclusivity and increases access to education for children with special needs. The ministry will inculcate the pre-school unit, previously run by CLaSH, that presently accommodates a maximum of 12 children between the ages of three and six, into their system. Considering a secure long-term future for this unique and highly relevant early intervention initiative, the CLaSH board and executive agreed that the most sustainable way forward would be to attach the pre-school unit to the School for the Hearing Impaired at the National Institute for Special Education (NISE) in Windhoek. There, it could serve as the model of an early intervention centre that could possibly be duplicated in the regions.
After high-level meetings took place with the leadership of the ministry of education and the CLaSH board and executive in 2018, the ministry confirmed support and approval of the transfer of the CLaSH pre-school unit to the School for the Hearing Impaired. A memorandum of understanding in this regard was signed in October 2018 by the chairman of the board of CLaSH and the ministry's executive director.
After a successful fundraising effort by CLaSH, the first two classrooms were inaugurated and handed over to the ministry of education at the end of 2019. Since January 2020, they officially host the NISE Early Intervention Centre for children, who are deaf. CLaSH's director Heide Beinhauer says it is her hope that the unique Early Intervention Centre will continue to flourish under the good care of the ministry that has been one of the association's most cooperative partners for the past three decades.
CLaSH as a trust will help with specific requests benefiting young children with hearing loss and their families. The transition and incorporation of this specialised division into the ministry may not be a walk in the park, but as they say, the proof of the pudding surely remains in the eating.
*Sem Shino is the Chief Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.