Understanding through Advocacy and Awareness: Crucial Steps by PWDs for Social Change
Math. It’s a part of everyday life yet the simple uttering of this word can draw such a strong polarizing reaction similar to that of the New York Yankees… either you love them or you hate them. Most notably these negative feelings towards the field of mathematics are drawn from a lack of understanding which may manifest itself in fear, frustration and sometimes the pride swallowing lie of a deceased grandparent to get out an exam. Arguably the key ingredient for this volatile perception towards math is misunderstanding. How can one remedy this situation so Granny can safely come to your graduation without having to hide her from your professor? The answer lies in awareness, working through false preconceived notions of the subject matter and allowing understanding to come through the logical presentation of information.
A group of people in Northern Uganda that is often misunderstood are persons with disabilities (PWDs). This misunderstanding towards PWDs in the northern region of Uganda has exhibited itself in neglect, abuse and gross infringements of the most basic of human rights which has lead to extreme suffering and a drastically reduced quality of life.
Richard Omona advocating about persons with disabilities to Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members in the Pabwo region of Northern Uganda
When there is a lack of knowledge towards disabilities in Northern Uganda it is often the case that a child being born with a disability is believed to be the result of a woman doing something wrong in her life. Fathers sometimes abandon the family to rid themselves of the shame and increased responsibility of taking care of a child with a disability. The child may be forced to live far away from home in neglect and isolation due to misplaced resentment. Opportunities for educational and social development are often nonexistent. A devastating reality is that it is not entirely uncommon for the child to be fed only once a day to reduce the frequency of the child’s bowel movements as there are no adequate and accessible facilities for a person with a disability to use the washroom.
Paul, a funny and charismatic sixteen year old from St. Jude’s Orphanage for Children with Disabilities. St. Jude’s is able to provide many services for children with disabilities.
Women in particular with disabilities are having incredible difficulty forming meaningful and lasting relationships. Men sometimes do not recognize the humanity of woman with a disability and refuse to publicly acknowledge having a relationship with her. Like many people it has always been a dream of mine to have a loving wife to raise children with and grow happily old with together. Could you imagine not being able to even fathom the idea of this dream as its reality is so far gone that having hope will most likely result in unbearable disappointment? Men will often pretend to have a meaningful relationship (in secret) with a woman with a disability to simply gratify their own sexual desires. Should a child ever be conceived from this misleading relationship the man would simply run away leaving the woman with a disability to raise the child all by herself.
However, the Gulu Disabled Persons Union wants to change this and the views towards persons with disabilities in Northern Uganda. Once understanding is gained the GDPU is hopeful that social change will follow.
Advocacy and Awareness by the G.D.P.U. to increase understanding towards PWDs
The G.D.P.U. is making great strides to increase Northern Uganda’s understanding of PWDs, especially in remote regions outside of Gulu where services for PWDs and understanding of PWDs are limited. Through passionate and informed presentations tackling the myths and facts regarding disabilities perceptions are beginning to change. Richard Omona, the man who I mentioned in my very first blog, advocates for the rights of PWDs by sharing his experience of having a disability as a result of polio. His voice is able to facilitate understanding through empathy by informing people about the challenges a person with a disability routinely faces.
Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members of Pabwo learning about persons with disabilities.
The G.D.P.U. is strategically advocating to specific stakeholders essential for facilitating social change. Such groups include Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members, Parents of children with disabilities, Service providers and Learning institutions. The positive benefits of these awareness and advocacy presentations are evident through the closing remarks of Opyio Andrew, Parish Chief of the Pabwo region. After hearing the presentation by members of the GDPU Opyio made a plea to other cultural and council leaders in Pabwo to “advocate and create awareness about PWDs so that persons with disabilities can feel loved and less isolated knowing that their community cares about them”. Furthermore, he publicized that “when you are in love with a person you need to stand by them, even if they have a disability”. He concluded by saying that the presentation will help people in Pabwo to strongly consider accessibility issues when constructing homes, toilets and schools in the future.
Parish Chief Opyio Andrew telling his community of Pabwo about the importance of PWDs