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If they can do it, so can I Gambian approach to disability

By: Partha Sahoo, VSO Volunteer, India

Gambia is the smallest country in West Africa, with a population of 1.6 million. About 16% of the total population is disabled. Disabled people exist in every society and every community world wide, despite the level of independence and wealth. Any one can become disabled at any time but poor and marginalized people are most likely to become victims. The voice of a VSO volunteer.. Partha, an Indian volunteer was working as an Organizational Development Advisor for two different DPOs, the Gambia Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (GADHOH) and the Gambia Association of the Physically Disabled (GAPD). I worked in advocacy, Media Advocacy, Organization Capacity Building, management training, as well as fundraising. I have been working since 2005, and really it was a great experience working in this country, although it has limited resources and as well there were many issues to be addressed. At first, I found it very difficult to work with them. I started working with the hearing impaired people. When I first did workshops on HIV/AIDS for these people, it was very difficult to explain about these sensitive issues through Gambian Sign Language, so local interpreters were used. The World Disability Day, 3 December, is a day each year set aside for disability awareness and issues. Here in The Gambia, there is a committee set up by GFD (Gambian Federation of the Disabled) to work preparing and organizing activities for this day each year. I was on this committee with the specific role of Media Advocacy. For instance, I worked with GAPD in this role, providing training in management and capacity building issues. Two newspaper articles were printed in Gambian newspapers for awareness on disability, helping increase networking possibilities for members of GAPD and GADHOH, and securing help for Wheelchairs for the NRC. The most important role I had to play was that of training myself out of a job here. I looked forward to the day when I would .leave and the Gambians would work on the Gambian situation helping fellow Gambians. They can say If they can do it, so can I

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Gambia and Disability The Gambias National Disability Survey compiled by the Government of the Gambia with UNICEF support in 1998 was used as a key background document and a series of individual needs assessments exercises we carried out. The survey showed that 24.7% of people with disabilities questioned were unable to participate in family activities such as praying, going to the market and caring for children. 21.1% were unable to participate in social gatherings. This is within the context of a society where everyone is expected to take part in family and community activities. There are deeply entrenched attitudes about disabled people and the causes of disability, which perpetuate their social exclusion. Currently health and social welfare services in the Gambia, and information about them, is extremely limited. Services provided by the Department of Social Welfare are limited to Banjul and surrounding areas. There is only one provider of assistive aids, such as wheelchairs and artificial limbs in the country, National Rehabilitation Centre, which is also based in Banjul. The limited services available are therefore inaccessible for most of the rural population. The majority of roads are very poor and donkey carts are used as the main form of transport in rural areas. Even given these conditions, the costs of travelling from rural areas to the capital are prohibitively high and those that can afford to travel are discouraged from doing so. Many commercial drivers are reluctant to carry people with disabilities, especially wheelchair users because of the logistical difficulties. Policy and information workshops run by local organizations, government structures, and international bodies rarely make provisions to promote access and participation for people with disabilities. Access to information is also extremely limited given the range of communication challenges faced by people with disabilities. Few policy documents are translated into Braille or recorded on audiotape. There are only 4 trained sign language interpreters in the country with only limited training. In rural areas radio is often the only source of information, which excludes deaf people. DPOs have traditionally operated independently of each other. Yet, there is huge potential for these organisations to work together and to increase the level of support they offer to members and non-members alike. The Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD), and umbrella body for the DPOs, has existed for many years, but has not yet been successful in representing the Gambian disability sector as a single voice.

iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of Kailash New Delhi-110065

Tel.: +91 11-26217459 Email : vso@ivolunteer.in Website: www.ivoindia.org