In any project, selecting the target area is crucial as it determines the kind of people we would be able to reach out. With this in mind, we in the CBR project set out for an exploratory visit to the project area. The task sounded easy but as our team set out, there were various challenges varying from broken roads to overflowing rivers and finding most people in the fields busy with agriculture. But nothing could compare to this particular challenge, “not finding People with Disabilities”. Most villagers we had asked claimed there were no people with disabilities in our village, some claimed “oh that lame man, I think he died a couple of years ago or that mental child, I don’t think she survived”. Most people we met seemed very sure there were no people with disabilities in their village and some even proudly stated so.
It should actually be good news, unfortunately it isn’t. According to the WHO statistics, 15 % of every population world-wide has a disability (World Report on Disability). According to our secondary government records, at least 1-2 % of every population are people with Disabilities. But in our experiences, they are often not found, people do not know them, they are forgotten or invisible. Often, families hide the fact that they have a child or an adult with disability in their families they feel ashamed and this often leads to them being neglected, uncared for. And without any care, they deteriorate further, are constantly dependant, a burden to the family and finally lose all dignity.
But during one of our visits, a call came through to one of our staff from the District Disability Rehabilitation Centre. He urgently wanted names and contacts of a few PWDs. I wondered why there was such a hurry to find random PWDs. I found out that, since the Independence Day was coming up in 2 days, they wanted to distribute some aids and appliances from the Department of Social Welfare. So suddenly, PWDs were in demand, it may be a good thing and someone in need could actually benefit. But what annoyed me was that the PWDs were sought after for a day or two in a year.
We met the officer in charge and he expressed that this would be an opportunity to showcase the activities of the department. It felt like the PWDs in need were on display for the world to see what the Department could achieve. There would be photographs and news reports and heaps of praise but the PWDs would go back to being invisible. However we referred a young girl with severe physical impairment who would benefit from a tricycle. I found out today that she couldn’t go and receive the tricycle. I wonder if she will be on record somewhere, if she will ever be sought out again, if she will ever get another chance, if she and many other PWDs be visible throughout the year.
Some may argue that at least they are getting something, I disagree, and they don’t need our pity or charity to be given something. They deserve better, a better life, a better future and better attention. The least we can do is to acknowledge their presence amidst us and make them more visible.