In any society, persons with disabilities face big challenges. Now imagine how life is like for a disabled person in a developing country. And not just in any developing country, but in a region affected by decades of war and violence. In case you are born without any disabilities, imagine what life is like if you’re blind, deaf or if you cannot walk, say in The Netherlands. Now imagine the same thing but while living in a camp for internally displaced persons with very limited facilities even for those who are not disabled.
In the camps, if you’re deaf, you’re very unlikely to know how to write your own name. Actually, as you probably never learnt sign language, you most likely don’t even know that you have a name. If you’re blind, you might not even have a cane to find your way around. Fetching water and fire wood becomes a huge burden and you largely depend on others. And what if you are blind and deaf, how do you communicate your needs to anyone to begin with? If communication is not a problem but if you have a physical disability, access to food, water and shelter is a daily struggle.
With the recent relative stability in the area, people are leaving the camps to go back home. But the people with disabilities stay behind. The radio broadcasts urging people to go home disappear into thin air when it comes to targeting the deaf. Government support in the form of supply of hoes and seeds are useless to the blind. If you are dependent on your wheelchair for some form of mobility, how are you going to find transport to go back home? And what is “home” after having been away for so long? Your land is likely to have been grabbed by others. So you go to court, right? Hopefully there is a ramp so you can access the local court with your wheelchair and/or hopefully there is a sign language interpreter present to translate your case to the local judge…
At least your disability will never disable you to hope. But your hope tends to be in vain.
There are many such issues that block the access of people with disabilities to water, food, health services and justice. And there are many people with disabilities in Gulu and Amuru district. A stroll around any camp or Gulu town will make this very clear straight away. (Not that a number should matter. Isn’t every single person equally entitled to human dignity, no matter how small or large the group of people in the same position?) Still, and this came to me as a huge surprise, the special needs of people with disabilities in camps are not in any way addressed by the government. A bigger surprise even: out of the enormous number of NGO’s in Gulu and Amuru District virtually none open their eyes to the urgent needs of people with disabilities.
Thank god for people like Simon and Alfred, respectively chairman and dedicated employee of the Gulu Disabled Persons Union, and the main people we are going to be working with. And thank you Simon and Alfred for your warm welcome to the Union’s office and for inspiring me with your focus and impressive advocacy efforts on behalf of people with disabilities in the area. To be honest I was never really very conscious of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities. It was also not the first thing that came to mind when thinking about northern Uganda’s IDP camps. I will now do everything I can to help you wake up others.
Posted By Annelieke Van De Wiel
Posted Aug 27th, 2008