Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tackling Tricky Traditions

Blind balance boarding after the conference
Bonjour! This week we’re writing about an issue we’ve noticed here in Ouagadougou as members of a disabled organisation; the differing progression rates between gender equality and disability discrimination. We picked up on two points that were heatedly debated at HSB’s conference last week. (Well, not so much debated, as argued and agreed with all round.) The first was the fact that despite having a significant percentage of the population living with a disability, due to high disease rates and the prevalence of meningitis and polio due to expensive vaccinations, there is very limited disability access within the country. Even at the conference, disability access was non-existent and Cedric, the national team leader was forced to assist many attendees, carrying them to and from their wheelchairs to a seat – a difficult thing to watch as a volunteer here to advocate the importance of independence. Secondly, one attendee got very riled by the morality of many men here in Burkina and indicated at the superstition that shrouds disability. Though we want to stress that this is not a stereotype for all Burkinabes, there is a traditional mentality preached by witch doctors, and still believed to this day, that by sleeping with a disabled woman, one will become rich and be purged of their sins. Shocking as this is, what we found most striking is that the example this woman used was of her disabled sister, who is studying at university, and who still suffers from these propositions. This struck a chord as it highlighted what we have been seeing throughout our time here – that whilst gender equality is slowly reaching an equilibrium – boys are no longer favoured in education or community life and indeed many of the female national volunteers are university graduates, disability discrimination is still rife. So whilst one traditional mentality is well on its way to being dispelled, another is still prevalent even in progressive walks of life, and the country has failed to adapt for the generations that have, and continue to live with disabilities.
HSB conference

Wheelchair skeletons
HSB however is energetically challenging Burkina’s uncompromising attitude and this week we visited the welding workshop they helped set up. The workshop is staffed entirely by people with disabilities (much like HSB itself), and the biceps of these men brought a sweat to many of us ladies! The wheelchairs made here are all unique and tailored to the individual’s disability. Often they are a product of trial and error – if one design does not work so well, they take it back and adapt it to maximise independence. It was so apparent here that the work HSB do is greatly appreciated and we were thrown some very motivational compliments! Yet for us, seeing the strength and happiness of these men was inspiring and we are now planning to make welders out of ourselves and create our very own adapted wheelchair!   

Shootin' hoops

We also attended the weekly wheelchair basketball training session on Thursday and though for some of us it was a chance to run around and learn how to bounce a ball, for Rowan, Cedric, and Lorna, it was an opportunity to flash their skills and shoot some hoops with the talented team!

Showing Paralympics videos  
We also held three awareness-raising sessions in different schools, and were happy to find out that the majority of pupils were well aware of the potential and the ability of those living with a disability (credit to the eleven previous cohorts!) We focused on emphasising that in some way, everyone has a disability, as everyone has challenges - challenges affecting who you are and what you are trying to do. What we reiterate is that disability is not a liability; but rather a chance for growth and knowledge, and this was well-received! We were however thrown some curveballs – one boy claimed that those with disabilities should not play sports as they are “not healthy,” whereby Tash swiftly intervened claiming that most are far stronger than any of us – and the ripped physiques of those wheelchair-bound basketballers and welders hammers home just how powerful they are … (and how they would annihilate any of us in any kind of scuffle.) By making the pupils then attempt to ship water from one bucket to another with crutches, blindfolded, and in a wheelchair, we just succeeded in drenching the floor and thus fortifying the remarkable skill of those with disabilities!

Drenching classroom floors

So this week we have learnt that whilst there is no denying the presence of disability discrimination in Burkina Faso, incremental steps are certainly being taken to tackle this, and slowly but surely, perceptions are changing and public acceptance is being achieved. But like most international development organisations, we must not set our goals too high and appreciate that stigma takes generations of education to abolish and all we can do is help plant the seeds for future possibility!

Creating curiosity with our adapted sports!

Mary Kinsella

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