March is National Disabilities Month and an excellent opportunity to highlight the fantastic people we work with and our wonderful Special Needs Awareness Programme, SNAP.
Many of you will be familiar with SNAP, which works to improve the lives of disabled children and their families in Lawra District, but for those who are unfamiliar it is important to understand the context in which ATE operates to appreciate the necessity of a programme like SNAP as well as to understand the challenges people with disabilities encounter. There are many areas of the world, including Upper West Ghana, where disability is not understood and is wrongly seen to be the result of a curse or wickedness. In such places it is considered shameful not to be ‘normal’. This can have a debilitating effect on the life and welfare of people with disabilities and can result in whole families being shunned from the community. Tragically, such treatment can result in the neglect or even infanticide of disabled children. The neglect and discrimination encountered mean that barriers to education and employment are numerous for children and adults with disabilities.
ATE believes in inclusivity and equity to empower people of all abilities and circumstance to achieve their potential. Robert M Hensel once said that ‘There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more” and we agree. ATE believes fundamentally in the right for everyone to live a valued life and to be given opportunities to contribute to their community. And we believe that society is richer for it.
John B. is a pot maker in the town of Dowine. As a child, John contracted an illness (likely Polio) that caused muscular atrophy in one of his legs. As an adult his withered leg inhibits his mobility but certainly not his determination. John was granted by ATE in March 2016 to enable his pot making business to grow and thrive. Almost two years later and it is doing just that. John is one of our most successful entrepreneurs; by identifying a gap in the market, John is now the only business in Dowine who recycles metal into sturdy and durable cooking ware. John has a thriving business that is always busy and his success is a testament to the notion that there is no limit to what a person can achieve when their needs are met.
In November 2016, ATE began its first season supporting Dry Season Farmers. The long dry season in Upper West Region causes chronic food shortages and high food insecurity in Lawra, but by supporting Dry Season Farmers we have seen an impressive increase in crop yield year round, providing income opportunities and increased access to vegetables during the leanest time of the year. Part of ATE’s support goes to two groups of community farmers in the rural villages of Lissa and Baazing. Both groups are made up of older men and women who work together to ensure they all have food and financial security year round, and both groups include blind and partially sighted farmers. Due to their age and impairment, these are individuals who would likely have been excluded from making a meaningful contribution to their community. But thanks to the impressive team spirit that exists in these two communities, these men and women are making a meaningful impact during the hardest part of the year. The inclusivity displayed helps to safeguard these potentially vulnerable people and empowers them to become contributing members of society.
‘Disability is in not inability’
Clement, Dry Season Farmer
These are values that ATE is proud to promote and support. Since 2013, ATE has been working hard to improve inclusion for disabled children and fight the negative stigma surrounding disability in Lawra District. ATE now facilitates SNAP meetings across three different locations that cover a range of activities for both the parents and the children. To assist with practical support, we help SNAP users get health insurance, access specialist medical orthopaedic and physiotherapy treatment to help improve mobility and independence. We hold educational seminars for parents on topics of practical support, for example, taking care of their child’s hygiene, and awareness seminars such as recognising symptoms of common treatable diseases. Some SNAP children attend school and ATE is keen to offer whatever support we can.
Children who attend our SNAP meetings present with a range of disabilities and therefore, capabilities, but many of the children don’t have a medical diagnosis. This is one of the challenges of living with disability in poverty; limited access to medical specialists, limited transport availability and limited funds. But when planning our SNAP sessions it is important they are inclusive and accessible to each child participating. Everyone is different but we strive to make sure the monthly group provides something of value to each and every child.
Each child and carer accessing our SNAP groups will face different challenges in their day-to-day lives but the reality of living with a disability in an area with such a high poverty incidence means that there are certain challenges common to everyone.
We know from our monthly SNAP support groups that travel is difficult, particularly for the many SNAP members who live in rural parts of the district. Infrastructure is limited and many of our SNAP users rely on the ATE ‘nyabba’ – a small transport vehicle – in order to access the meetings. Without the nyabba it could be a lengthy journey through the bush or along dust tracks, an arduous journey without taking into account any reduced mobility related to the child’s disability. Most parents can’t afford the cost of transport on a public nyabba which means that necessary travel to visit a clinician, to go to market, to visit family, can become impossible. This can result in the trip being abandoned or the child being left at home.
The negative perception of disability in Upper West Ghana means that many of the parents and carers who participate in SNAP have suffered economically. We have frequently been told that customers will not accept drinks or food from vendors with a disabled child because they believe the food could be ‘tainted’.
‘People discriminate against me and my child because of her condition. For example, I used to sell pito but because of her they don’t buy it anymore, so I stopped.’ SNAP parent
This forces the carer of a disabled child to choose between an income and caring for their child. While our workshops provide a forum for parents experiencing similar challenges, a resource for information and engaging activities for the children, our workshops are also vital for breaking down barriers in the community, to overcome isolation, and to end stigma and discrimination; crucial in enabling parents of disabled children to earn an living and care for their child.
We are proud to deliver this important work and feel joy at the positivity this has been introduced into the lives of both the children and the parents who participate, but there is still further to go. This year, ATE is putting SNAP at the centre of our focus and a significant part of this will be aimed at driving awareness and improving inclusivity. At ATE, we celebrate the differences in society and believe that everyone should be given the tools and opportunities to live a meaningful life. Individuals like John and our Dry Season Farmers are examples of what people can achieve and show what a waste it is when people who are differently abled are not given the opportunity to become a contributing and meaningful member of their community. It is our vision that the strides made by SNAP to improve visibility, inclusivity and awareness, will help each SNAP child grow into an increasingly accepting society that will enable them to achieve their potential.
This March we are appealing for contributions to a health care fund for our SNAP members to ensure that they can access the health care they need when they need it. If you would like to make a donation please click here. Thank you.