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Providing children with disabilities with opportunities to participate in quality childcare and early education in inclusive settings in their early years reduces their need for special education and other supports later in life. The "I Can" Stimulation Program is an award-winning design originating in South Africa. It consists of structured curriculum (with adaptations for various levels of disabilities) that is easy to follow and implement, a well-packaged collection of toys and activities to promote play and stimulation (the "kit") and an online platform that provides ongoing training support for the center.
The program has been designed by occupational therapists and parents in South Africa who are often searching for practical tools to advance the development of children with disabilities. The product has proven to be successful in South Africa after over five years of delivery to numerous low income communities. For example, the program was delivered to 675 children at centers over the past six months; 68 caregivers were trained and 22 centers have received training for a total impact of 765.
Given the success of the program in South Africa, the Uhambo USA team is bringing the program to the US market. The "I Can" program is being developed as a social enterprise in the US which will include people with disabilities in the workforce. It is designed to be financially sustainable and a portion of profits will benefit Uhambo's African programs that serve children with disabilities in low-resourced settings.
The target market is early childhood day care centers, special needs schools/centers and respite centers in the US. Centers that specifically serve children with disabilities want this product because it is a standardized curriculum. The program is adaptable to children based on their level and type of disabilities. It helps increase the capacity of centers and better utilize their staff and volunteers. The centers will be trained to to use the program and then provide ongoing training and support through an online portal.
The pilot the program will start with 10 Centers in Colorado to get additional feedback. After piloting, modifications will be made based on market feedback. The vision is to develop a financially sustainable social enterprise in the US that also provides an income stream for programs in South Africa.
Rotary Vocational Grant
Uhambo plans to use the Rotary's Vocational Grant model to launch the pilot. "Vocational training teams are groups of professionals who travel abroad either to teach local professionals about a particular field or to learn more about their own." Uhambo's will develop a team of South African trainers to travel to Colorado and train their management team on the "I Can" program and train the 10 centers involved in the pilot. While here, the South African team will also connect with CSU's Occupational Therapy and UNC's Special Needs Education departments, among other local experts in the special needs field to expand upon knowledge and share best practices for both US and South African early education /special ed professionals and team members.
The objectives of the grant include:
• Launching our pilot program with 10 care centers for children with disabilities on the Front Range
• Providing for the initial inventory of 20 kits and training material
• Travel for South African Uhambo team of 2 - 3 people to the US and once in the US
• Gaining feedback from the ten participating centers to modify the product for success
• Designing a phase two plan based on product feedback
• Connecting with target market
• Planning vocational team meetings with industry experts in the area to exchange beset practices
• Launching initial web platform