A delayed update of my blog. The last month was incredibly hectic and I lost myself somewhat in the details of the local government structures, the history of the conflict in this region, the emergence and current status of the ‘government protected’ IDP camps, the Ugandan and international legislation on rights of persons with disabilities, the history and internal organization of the Gulu Disabled Person Union and its affiliated Associations from district right down to village level, the preparatory work for the advocacy workshop organized by Survivors Corps, frequent and long-lasting power cuts, a lack of internet, many other things, but mainly: the field trips to the camps and villages, the people we met there, the stories they shared with us.
Last month’s numerous field trips were revealing. I saw with my own eyes how persons with disabilities in the camps and villages remain generally marginalized, invisible, forgotten. I met people who after 5 years still carried bullets fired by the LRA in their limbs, causing daily pain and immobility. I spend half an hour joking with a very bright kid who couldn’t go to school as he couldn’t walk. I had the pleasure of getting to know the very kind and insightful Francis who hasn’t been able to walk, stand or even sit upright for twenty years since he tripped over a branch while running away for the rebels. Due to the then intense insurgency, he never made it to hospital. Due to his current condition, he can’t move any body part but his hands and head. I met an old woman who dislocated her hip and who each day crawls around her hut in the camp to find food and water. How are they going to benefit from the numerous programmes, plans, projects and services available to the rest of the population here if they can’t even move from one place to another?
During the war, persons with disabilities suffered more than persons without disabilities. Even now the war has calmed down in this region, the disadvantaged position remains unchanged and largely unaddressed. I’m not illustrating this to show that these people are pitiable and just in need of aid. I want to show that through a changed approach of reconstruction stakeholders in this region, people could be facilitated to uplift themselves from their papyrus math on the ground to independency, to education and community participation, if possible at home rather than in the camp. To be able to have an equal chance as able bodied community members to thrive, a change in approach would make a real difference.
Just as an example, the main governmental development programme for the region, the PRDP (The Peace, Recovery and Development Plan), brushes off the issue of disability by mentioning it just a few times, indirectly, always under the general heading of “vulnerable people”. Persons with disabilities are not at all mentioned in for example the section on education, health or sanitation, whereas without paying attention to accessibility -think about ramps, mobility aids, transport and means of communication- the door for persons with disabilities remains firmly closed to these services.
I hold big objections to grouping persons with disabilities under “vulnerable people”, together with for example orphans and the elderly, as done by the government as well as NGOs. Grouping people like that seems just an easy way out. How can you simultaneously address the needs of an orphan who fails to go to school because he cannot afford a uniform and a man in his twenties who due to war related spinal cord injury is confined to his hut and immediate surroundings? The needs of persons with disabilities are unique, real and urgent and need to be recognized as such, just as the needs of any orphan child. In both cases, the denial of needs amounts to discrimination and the denial of rights.
The Gulu Disabled Persons Union’s current main project, the IDDP (Internally Displaced Disabled Persons) Project, sponsored by Motivation Africa, was recently launched to improve equality for persons with disabilities in several ways. First of all, it aims to research and improve the extent to which development actors (governmental and non-governmental) include disability issues into their programmes. A draft report has so far concluded that: “The Government, local leaders, international and national NGOs that are providing services in the camps for displaced persons are not aware of the needs and rights of PWDs [persons with disabilities].” In addition, the project invests in the mobility and peer group support and advocacy capacity of persons with disabilities.
The Gulu Disabled Persons Union has achieved a lot in the past, and is very effective in its current approach. The Union’s waters are turbulent. A lot is going on. The last month a large number of tricycles have been provided, several workshops were organized or facilitated (with as a highlight the advocacy workshop organized by Survivor Corps about which I will tell more soon), several articles on the work of the Gulu Disabled Persons Union were published in national newspapers (for example the one in the Daily Monitor with one of my pictures of Francis), many local and national leaders and decision makers were alerted and informed on persons with disabilities’ challenges and rights, and the Gulu Disabled Persons Union used several hours of radio air time sensitizing the community on the rights of persons with disabilities. Even so, as I hope this blog highlights, they cannot achieve real change and open doors alone, and there is still a very long way to go.
Posted By Annelieke Van De Wiel
Posted Oct 21st, 2008
November 27, 2008
Hi Annelieke! It’s great to read your views and your passion for the subject is jumping from the pages! When I was in Uganda, I was living next to a disabled woman for some time. She had a tricycle and did some work at the local library which enabled her to support her sisters children. I think her strength was really amazing and I have no doubt you feel the same about many of the people you meet in the camps. I’m curious to hear whether you also see creative solutions to the problems people face in the camps; How does one survive when you’re alsmost completely paralized? Good luck with your work and enjoy Uganda! (I know I miss it!)Mischa