Disabilities in LiberiaLiberia is a West African country comprised of 4.98 million people. Exact statistics about disability in Liberia are out of date but according to a UNICEF study from 1997, 16 percent of the population has a disability. Of that 16 percent, 61 percent struggle with mobility, 24 percent are visually impaired, seven percent are deaf and eight percent have an intellectual or psychosocial disability. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), estimated in 2014 that due to the devastating civil war that ended in 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the population of people with disabilities in Liberia is likely closer to 20 percent.

Background

People with disabilities tend to be marginalized, stigmatized and excluded from education, skills training and income-generating opportunities. Because they have a limited voice in politics and society, their issues are not included in national policies, especially in poverty reduction initiatives causing their living conditions to continue to deteriorate in a “vicious cycle”. According to SIDA, 99 percent of people with disabilities in Liberia live in extreme poverty.

Liberia is taking steps to improve the lives of those living with disabilities. In 2012, the nation signed and ratified the U.N. Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as other treaties that reference the rights of people with disabilities like the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It also formed a national commission on disability and is reviewing its constitution to address the rights of people with disabilities. While the country is working to improve their rights and conditions, there is still much to be done. The lives and health of people with disabilities in Liberia can be improved in three key-ways: education, mental health and job opportunities.

Education

One important tool for lifting people out of poverty is education. The Liberian government has free and compulsory education for children but students with disabilities are often left behind. In 2009, even though an estimated 92,000 of 600,000 school-age children have disabilities, only four percent was allocated for children with disabilities. While there are schools for the visually impaired and the hearing impaired, they mostly reach a small urban population. Rural areas are lacking in resources for their students with disabilities.

There are, however, organizations working to improve access to education. AIFO-Liberia, for example, is working to ensure that people affected by leprosy can receive their educations, largely through a Community Based Rehabilitation strategy.

Mental Health

The Liberian people have been through much in the past 50 years. Approximately 40 percent of its citizens suffer from post-traumatic disorder from the civil war and there is only one practicing psychiatrist in the country. While not all people with disabilities have a mental illness, mental illness itself can become a disability. Those who have mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression are often stigmatized as witches.

The Carter Foundation is working to train 450 mental health professionals and create an anti-stigma campaign to improve understanding of mental illnesses. Meanwhile, AIFO-Liberia implemented a program that provides psychosocial support for those affected by the Ebola virus in addition to a destigmatizing campaign to improve mental health.

Job Opportunities

People with disabilities in Liberia are often excluded from job skills training, work, and income-generating opportunities. While the Liberian government and activists are working to put accommodation and anti-discrimination laws on the books, disability is often seen as divine retribution for a person’s misdeeds. Organizations like AIFO-Liberia have implemented a startup project that will increase job opportunities and improve social inclusiveness. Ending the social stigma, working to improve health care access and workplace accommodations, will help lift people with disabilities in Liberia out of poverty.

While the country has made great legislative strides in signing on to international commitments and in creating legislation, it still has a long way to go in improving the state of people with disabilities in Liberia. The stigma around these conditions prevents people with disabilities from having a voice and escaping extreme poverty. With the help of activists, NGO’s, and the Liberian government, the lives of people with disabilities can be improved.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Tanzania
After gaining independence in 1961, Tanzania’s government sought an advanced society for its population. The government’s attempt to grow a stable economy overlooked the estimated 85 percent illiteracy among its people. As a country with one of the largest young populations, these eight facts about education in Tanzania demonstrate how improvements to education have become a primary interest in public policy.

8 Facts About Education in Tanzania

  1. It is estimated that 5.1 million children between the ages of 7 and 17 are not in school. Primary school enrollment reached its peak of 86 percent in 2016, and in that same year, lower-secondary level school enrollment plummeted to a low of 33.4 percent. Many Tanzanian children do not experience a secondary education or vocational training. This leads to many children accepting jobs in hazardous conditions against the Tanzanian Law of the Child Act, which strictly defines and regulates prohibited tasks for children. Due to lack of enforcement of this act, 29.3 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 work in unsafe conditions in fields such as mining, quarrying and domestic work.
  2. The average yearly cost of an education in Tanzania totals 100,000 Tanzanian Shillings (TZS). This cost is equal to $50. However, with a national average salary of $22,662, many families cannot afford the fees that accompany their children’s education. These eight facts about education in Tanzania vividly depict poverty’s crucial role in receiving access to education. As of 2016, the poverty rate decreased to 26.8 percent, but an estimated 29 percent of students still live in households below the poverty line. In addition to school fees, parents must pay for uniforms, books and possibly transportation. Public secondary schools offer cheaper tuition as opposed to private schools, but additional schools fees can total up to $300 a year.
  3. Transportation to secondary school persists as an ongoing issue for millions of Tanzanian adolescents. Most of Tanzania’s population remains condensed in rural areas far away from secondary schools. Six people riding on one motorcycle to school lingers as a common image in some of these communities. Some students are able to receive housing at a boarding facility or private hostel by a school, while poorer families simply cannot make such sacrifice. This forces some students to walk or bicycle 20-25 kilometers, which usually takes more than an hour. Organizations such as The Tanzanian Education Fund (TEF), work with a board of organizational officers to manage the financial income for schools, review each school’s progress and fundraise for each school’s ongoing success. The TEF ensures that more than 465 students attending the Nianjema secondary schools in Bagamoyo, Tanzania have school buses through countless fundraising events.
  4. Adolescent girls in Tanzania are least likely to receive a secondary education. Research estimates that two out of every five girls in Tanzania marry before the age of 18. Within the population of married, secondary-school age girls, 97 percent are not in school due to marriage or pregnancy. Government policies also discriminate against pregnant and married girls by authorizing schools to expel them. Tanzania’s education regulations permit the expulsion of students when a student has committed what it considers an offense against morality. Many girls in Tanzania yearn to go back to school but encounter discriminating barriers like repeatedly contacting the school headmaster with no response. In addition, they must pay an $18-23 re-entry fee after pregnancy which ultimately deters them from returning.
  5. In 2010, Tanzania issued the Persons with Disabilities Act which guarantees the right to education and training services to children with disabilities. Today, disabled children still encounter barriers to attending primary school, and even fewer attend secondary school. Enrollment rates for disabled children dropped from 5,495 students to 5,328 students in 2013. Out of the 3,601 public secondary schools in Tanzania, only 75 schools accommodate children that require special needs education. Most of the students with disabilities do not have access to assistive devices like a wheelchair, cane or hearing aid. In other cases, few teachers receive training to teach children with learning disabilities. ADD International operates to fight global discrimination by influencing governments for change so every disabled person gets the best quality of life. Since partnering with Tanzanian activists in 2012, ADD International helped 1,404 children with disabilities enroll in primary school.
  6. The Primary School Learning Examination (PSLE) prevents 1.6 million students from entering secondary school each year. The average completion rate for primary students is 58.4 percent whereas fewer than 52 percent complete secondary school. Many of the schools in Tanzania do not prepare their students adequately for the national exam due to a lack of resources and poor student to teacher ratios. The average student to teacher ratio remains 59:1. Students in Tanzania receive only one opportunity to pass the exam as well.
  7. In 2015, the Tanzanian government eliminated the school fees required for all lower-secondary schools. The implementation of this practice emerged from Tanzania’s 2014 Education and Training policy which aims to improve the overall quality of education in Tanzania. As a result of the policy, secondary school enrollment in Tanzania has increased to 31.6 percent. The Tanzanian government’s goal to become a middle-income country by 2025 began with this significant change. The Tanzanian government made a commitment to provide free, compulsory basic education. This commitment coincided with a 12-year plan and a grant from The Global Partnership for Education (GPE)to strengthen its education system. By continuing to provide free education, skills in literacy and numeracy in Tanzania have improved exceptionally.
  8. By collaborating with the Tanzanian government, Project Concern International (PCI) makes strides in improving the infrastructure of countless schools in Tanzania. The organization, PCI, aids in lifting communities around the world out of poverty by enhancing health and ending world hunger. Studies show that only 62 percent of schools in Tanzania provide an improved water source. Eighty-four percent of the 2,697 primary schools in Tanzania goes without handwashing facilities. These conditions create an unsanitary environment for children and make them more susceptible to diseases like dysentery, diarrhea or an acute respiratory infection. Since 2011, PCI installed 191 water systems in primary schools, giving an estimated 103,456 students improved latrines.

In the end, these eight facts about education in Tanzania are improving with support from global organizations. Bringing attention to the government policies that restrict marginalized groups of students from receiving an education can commence change. Tanzania will experience sustained development as long as the government invests in its education system.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Disabilities in Nigeria
Out of Nigeria’s estimated population of 200 million, approximately 27 million people live with disabilities. A 2005 study by the Leprosy Mission Nigeria found that, of its 1,093 respondents, 37 percent struggled with visual impairments, 32 percent had limited mobility, 15 percent had reduced hearing and the majority of people surveyed—61 percent—were unemployed because of their disability. People with disabilities in Nigeria typically receive little support from the government and instead rely on family members, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious groups. One of their biggest obstacles is the stigma surrounding their disabilities, which excludes them socially, economically and politically.

Often, families treat people with disabilities in Nigeria as a secret shame, and work and education exclude them. In extreme cases, their families abandon them or, if the family is wealthy, they institutionalize them. The Leprosy Mission Nigeria found in its survey that 16 percent of its participants survived by begging.

The Stigma Surrounding Disabilities

Tobiloba Ajayi, a lawyer and cerebral palsy activist born with CP, regularly faces questions and judgments about her mental faculties. She told Bright Magazine that, in a university pre-admission interview, “They said, ‘Really, I don’t think you’ll survive the semester.’ I remember looking [them] in the face and saying, ‘Watch me.’” She graduated five years later with a law degree.

Activists with disabilities in Nigeria like Ajayi are working to fight the stigma by changing the public perception of people with disabilities. Often, people treat them as “one-dimensional charity cases” rather than empowered people with their own needs. Ajayi helped make history by being one the lawyers to draft the state of Lagos’Special Peoples Law, which criminalized discrimination against people with disabilities and required that state-owned buildings and large buses be wheelchair accessible. When enacted in 2011, Lagos became the first state in Nigeria to pass a disability protection law. While this law helps increase accessibility for people with disabilities in Nigeria, inaccessibility still leaves many out.

Accessibility

According to Leprosy Mission Nigeria, 70 percent of the participants lacked access to disability-specific health care. Social agencies in Nigeria often receive limited funding partly because of the prevailing belief that the government should take a hands-off approach to let the country grow. The lack of funding and manpower means that these social agencies cannot access rural areas where the most vulnerable population lives.

In addition to a lack of medical care, people with disabilities in Nigeria often struggle with finding accommodations. Cobhams Asuquo, a blind singer, songwriter and producer, often struggled with finding braille reading material. In college, the braille textbooks were expensive and hard to come by. He told Bright Magazine, “As a nation we’re missing out on the value [people with disabilities] can add, just because we’re not creating an enabling environment for them to thrive.”

For the past several years, activists have been working tirelessly to pass the Nigeria Disability Act. In January 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law after two chambers of the National Assembly passed it. To ensure that Nigeria enacts this law effectively, Sightsavers Nigeria has petitioned the U.N. to uphold the rights of people with disabilities.

While Nigeria has a way to go to give people with disabilities equal opportunity, the passage of this law is a great start. By increasing access and protection, people with disabilities in Nigeria can have a greater voice in politics, education and the economy.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Disabled Persons in VietnamIn Vietnam, 5.8 percent of the population is considered disabled. For a country home to 95 million individuals, this equates to more than 5.2 million people. Often, those with disabilities face circumstances that challenge their quality of life, such as limited access to education, fewer work opportunities and difficulty with transportation and self-care. This article discusses three ways quality of life is improving for disabled persons in Vietnam.

USAID Assistance

Assisting disabled persons in Vietnam has been a top priority of USAID since the 1990s. Since then, the nation has made great progress in establishing equal rights for disabled people, whether their disability is classified as visual, auditory, mobile, speech-based or cognitive. The U.S. government has allocated more than $100 million to the disabled population and 30,000 individuals have received direct hands-on assistance, including vocational training, independent living assistance and job training. Several laws and amendments have been passed, all designed to improve the quality of life among the disabled population, including:

  • 2001: Amendment to the Constitution of Vietnam
  • 2006: Vocational Training Law
  • 2010: National Law on Persons with Disabilities
  • 2012: National Action Plan to Support People with Disabilities

The 2017 USAID report breaks down the types of assistance offered and the impact they have had. Over the course of the year, the organization met a variety of policy milestones, including the development of city construction projects to improve transportation and create sustainable housing for families. More than 9,000 people with disabilities received direct assistance, increasing the number of people with access to services by 29 times. As a prevention tactic, 62,000 children between the ages of one and six were screened for signs of future development of disabilities. In the towns of Binh Phuoc and Tay Ninh, 17 rehabilitation units were set up and provided training for medical professionals.

While the 2018 report has not been released yet, USAID is carrying out a number of additional projects, with completion goals set in 2020. Among those is the Accessibility for Inclusion Project, a mission designed to not only raise awareness regarding basic rights of those with disabilities but to increase access to public buildings, ultimately expanding their social and physical capabilities. By the time the project is completed in 2020, research projects that at least 1,800 people will receive formal training to advocate for physical accessibility, and approximately 50,000 people with disabilities in Vietnam will have improved accessibility rights.

Global Disability Rights Now: The Impact

The Global Disability Rights Now! organization is focused on enforcing 10 specific disability rights in impoverished countries, ultimately putting an end to discrimination based on capability. Some of the principles include creating reasonable accommodations, changing the concept of defining disability and encouraging full participation in society. Global Disability Rights Now! carries out projects in Armenia, Guatemala, Kenya, Vietnam, Mexico and Peru.

One of the most successful projects to improve the lives of disabled persons in Vietnam was the mission to move towards disability inclusion in employment, a program that provided Disability Equality Training (DET) to the non-disabled community. It was designed to raise awareness towards potential barriers in employment that the disabled community in Vietnam face and to provide them with the resources they need to understand how to treat them as equals.

U.S. and Vietnam Partnership

On April 20, 2019, the USAID signed a memorandum of intent that was designed to drastically improve the quality of life for disabled persons in Vietnam. Specifically, the memorandum targeted seven Vietnamese provinces, including Quang Tri, Hue, Quang Nam, Binh Dinh, Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Tay Ninh. It is working to provide direct care to disabled individuals, along with expanding rehabilitation centers and developing community-level social services. USAID showed its support for those living with disabilities through celebrating Vietnam’s National Disability Day on April 18, 2019. More than 600 participants attended the “Run For Persons with Disabilities – No Distance, no Limitation” event, both with and without disabilities.

Although living conditions are still not ideal for individuals with disabilities in Vietnam, the programs and advocacy efforts being put in place by USAID are projected to drastically improve their lives. Efforts such as DET and the Accessibility for Inclusion Project are being implemented to equalize the two demographics, and in doing so, the nation expects to see an increase in opportunities and fair treatment among the disabled population in Vietnam by 2020.

– Anna Lagattuta
Photo: Flickr

disabilities in SenegalSenegal has the fourth largest economy in the western region of Africa. However, half of Senegal’s population still lives in extreme poverty. Due to the limited disability services provided by Senegal’s government, the barriers that people are encountering under poverty are amplified for Senegalese people who have a disability. Efforts towards improving disability services in Senegal are currently focusing on accessibility within education and economic inclusion.

Improving Educational Opportunities

Children with disabilities often miss out on quality education due to a lack of accessibility services. It is estimated that, in West Africa, one in four children with a disability does not attend school. Many organizations are working to improve the education system in Senegal to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. One organization is Sightsavers Senegal.

There are 700,000 people in Senegal who have a visual impairment, which includes thousands of children. Sightsavers Senegal started a pilot program in order to address the large number of visually impaired students who are excluded from the education system in Dakar. The program began in 2011, and by 2016, 187 students with visual impairments were enrolled in three different schools.

Sightsavers was able to provide scholarships to students along with textbooks that had been translated into braille. Facilities and technology were also adapted in order to accommodate students with a visual impairment. Sightsavers was able to collaborate with Senegal’s Ministry of Education to provide resources and training for students and educators to include more inclusive learning spaces for children with visual impairments.

The success of this pilot program provided incentives to the Senegalese government to uphold the program and work towards expansion nationwide. This budget has allowed for the addition of assistive facilities and learning resources in two more regions in Senegal.

Improving Economic Inclusion

Gaining economic independence and success is often difficult for individuals with disabilities. Job training and matching are challenging when services aren’t available to facilitate the movement of people with disabilities into the workforce. Senegal enforces a minimum access quota to provide employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities in both private and public sector jobs. These quotas minimize the number of people out of work due to a disability. The Ministry of Civil Service, Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Technical and Vocational Training are in charge of implementing and enforcing the quota.

In Senegal, Humanity & Inclusion’s “EMPHAS” Project is working to provide training and services to help individuals with disabilities work towards economic security. Their focus has mainly been pointed towards women and young people who have disabilities. Humanity & Inclusion focuses not only on the technical training side of job fields but also advocates for accessible facilities. At least 500 adults and 90 public and private employers have benefited from the implementation of EMPHAS.

In March 2019, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, under the U.N., assessed the efforts being made towards improving disability services in Senegal. The committee identified areas where more intervention can be made, such as more vocational training and a focus on the implementation of services. Although there is still a portion of the disabled community in Senegal experiencing exclusion, resource allocation and a focus on making facilities more accessible have contributed to improving disability services in Senegal.

Claire Bryan

Photo: Flickr

Nicaraguans with DisabilitiesAfter seven years in Granada, Nicaragua, this January, the Cafe de las Sonrisas set up shop in the capital city of Managua. Also known as the “Cafe of Smiles, ” the little restaurant was a popular tourist destination in Granada, partly because of its atmosphere but also its unique staff of Nicaraguans with disabilities. Customers sat down to lunch in a large, airy room with hammocks hanging from the ceiling—courtesy of the hammock factory next door.

The menu presents simple Nicaraguan meals in Spanish and sign language. Posters on the walls also display some words in sign language customers might need to know: hello, goodbye, yes, no and thank you. Aside from an interesting lesson in linguistics, these posters provide a means of communicating with the cafe’s staff, all of whom are deaf and/or mute. That’s where the Cafe de las Sonrisas gets its name, according to the owner. In the absence of the spoken word, the main language of the restaurant is sign language and smiles.

Founding the Tio Antonio Social Center

The cafe—the first cafe in the Americas to employ only people who deaf and/or mute—is the brainchild of Antonio Prieto Brunel, also known as Tio Antonio. A native of Spain, Brunel moved to Nicaragua 13 years ago. After seeing the predicament of people who are deaf in Nicaragua, Brunel set out to make a difference.

As a result, he built the Tio Antonio Social Center, a nongovernmental organization that provides employment for people with disabilities. The Social Center also consists of a hammock shop, which employs young people with various disabilities. Meanwhile, the other half of the Social Center is the Cafe de las Sonrisas.

Living with Disabilities in Nicaragua

For people like the hammock makers and cafe staff, such opportunities are hard to come by. Nicaragua has always been a difficult place for people with disabilities. As recently as the 2000s, people with disabilities were treated as less than human, both by society and their families. Many were hidden from the public by their families for the majority of their lives. And, the abuse of people with disabilities was swept under the rug. In some cases, people with physical or intellectual disabilities were even kept in cages. While such abuses are almost unheard of now, there are stories of people with disabilities being kept in cages from less than 20 years ago.

To make matters worse, Nicaraguans with disabilities lacked access to any sort of public support system. Such a system would allow them to adapt to society or advocate for themselves. Instead, in the 1980s, the first schools for people who are deaf in Nicaragua were built. Before that, many Nicaraguans who are deaf lived in isolation. This was not only due to societal stigma but also the lack of community. In fact, Nicaraguan Sign Language was not developed until the schools began bringing children who are deaf together.

Improving Circumstances in Nicaragua

Since then, social progress for people with disabilities in Nicaragua has been slow but steady. While the government has built “special schools” for children with disabilities, these schools are chronically underfunded and understaffed. In addition, youth with disabilities frequently lack social support from their families. Seventy percent of children with disabilities in Nicaragua grow up without their fathers. Frequently, the birth of a child with disabilities results in the father abandoning the family. In addition, due to the stigma surrounding disability, 90 percent of Nicaraguans with disabilities are unemployed.

Without employment, many adults with disabilities are forced to depend on their families for most of their lives. Those without families, or without family members willing to support a relative with disabilities, often end up on the streets.

Employing Nicaraguans with Disabilities

Thanks to the hammock factory and the cafe, Brunel’s employees have been able to avoid such fate. Along with providing employment, the Tio Antonio Social Center prepares its workers for other jobs by teaching them career skills. Ultimately, its goal is to allow the Nicaraguan youth with disabilities to have the freedom that older generations with disabilities were denied. Equipped with gainful employment and career skills, Brunel’s employees have the opportunity to support themselves, which means that they can avoid being dependent on their families like many Nicaraguans with disabilities.

Plus, the Cafe de las Sonrisas is aiding the deaf community of Nicaragua in more ways than one. By having customers communicate with their waiters in Nicaraguan Sign Language, the cafe helps spread knowledge of NSL among the general public. Furthermore, all of the staff members being deaf and/or mute, in a business as public as the cafe, allows them to be visible to society in a way that most Nicaraguans with disabilities are not.

By allowing this visibility, the Cafe de las Sonrisas helps to combat stereotypes about Nicaraguans with disabilities. In a country where they are often ignored or mistreated and where it is nearly impossible to get a job and support themselves, the staff of the Cafe de las Sonrisas provides living proof that people with disabilities are capable of supporting themselves and contributing to society.

Keira Charles
Photo: connact global

Children with Disabilities in China
China, one of the most populated countries in the world, is home to many children with special needs. According to statistics from China Disabled Persons’ Federation, there are 80 million people with various disabilities living in China today, constituting six percent of the total population.

More than one million babies are born with birth defects annually and a baby is born with a disability every 30 seconds in China. To aid these children, various organizations are fighting to improve how children with disabilities in China can receive an education.

Regulations of Education of Persons with Disabilities

In 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that the Chinese government released an updated Regulations of Education of Persons with Disabilities to replace the out-of-date 1994 regulations.

According to the Watch’s report, the regulations mandated local governments to plan and fund resources to the education of people with disabilities as an encouragement to enhance education for children with disabilities in China. The Watch further reported that the regulation examined teacher training, evaluation and required schools to develop individualized educational plans for students with a disability.

Human Rights Watch stressed that it is vital to identify and remove barriers to learning and changing practices in schools. The nonprofit further reported that it is essential to provide reasonable accommodations that meet the individual needs of each student, including those with disabilities.

The Watch defines reasonable accommodation in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden.” In this aspect, children with disabilities in China can receive such accommodations, if they so require.

Community-Based Day Care Centers for Children with Disabilities in China

UNICEF works with the China Disabled Persons’ Federation to expand access to necessary social services for children with disabilities. According to UNICEF, they developed a model for community-based day care centers.

The centers meet the social service needs of children with disabilities in China and help parents cope with the additional childcare responsibilities, according to UNICEF. At these centers, UNICEF reports that disabled children can access rehabilitation services and participate in sports, games and activities fulfilling education and awareness-raising purposes.

In addition, UNICEF assists with annual surveys that gather data for policy recommendations to improve the lives of the families and children with disabilities in China. The rise in enrollment reflects UNICEF’s efforts to support these children so they can complete the entire nine years of basic education in China.

Learning in Regular Classrooms

According to the World Bank, the educational policy for children with disabilities in China is unique in that it admits several disabled children with specific educational needs into regular schools. The World Bank reported that in China, this method of special education is referred to as “Learning in Regular Classrooms”(LRC).

In LRC practice, the World Bank reported that resource rooms allow students with specific educational needs to study in regular classroom environments. The rooms mimic regular classrooms but supply additional resources for children with specific educational needs, such as extra teaching equipment and accommodations, textbook resources and aides.

International China Concern

International China Concern (ICC), was founded in 1993 by David Gotts after witnessing firsthand the suffering of abandoned Chinese children with disabilities in desperate conditions. ICC seeks to empower and train local staff to save lives, support families, transform communities and change public attitudes towards children with disabilities in China. According to ICC, the organization’s reputation and relationships in China place it in an excellent position to aid through family-style group homes and provide specialist services for the neediest children.

Michele Harris, Board Chair of USA Office at China Concern, voiced her outlook on the foundation’s success.

“I am inspired by ICC’s ability to sow the seeds of regard within the children and young adults they love and care for, the welfare officials they respect and work beside, and the caregivers they train and mentor. We must feel pride in their accomplishments and see every individual as a unique and powerful piece of God’s image.”

According to a newsletter by American Friends of ICC, students like 12-year-old Suisui are determined to overcome their obstacles, in his case, cerebral palsy.

The newsletter highlights that while some students might complain about school, Suisui not only attends with delight but he wheels himself to class 30 minutes each way. The article reflects how Suisui thoroughly enjoys going to daily classes and works hard, an embodiment of his learning potential. The newsletter attributes that Suisui can count, recognize numbers and perform simple math.

Through ICC’s Child Sponsorship Program, people can volunteer and get matched with a child and embark on a life-changing journey to transform lives.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities

To aid the fight for equal education, The World Bank has signed the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to affirm their commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). SDG4 ensures equal access to all levels of education for persons with disabilities by 2030.

Children with disabilities in China need as many people as possible to make a difference. UNICEF provides different ways to aid and uplift those with special needs, whether it be in your area or overseas in China.

Carolina Chavez
Photo: Creative Commons

solar powered hearing aidsThere are 466 million people in the world who are deaf or living with disabling hearing loss, which amounts to more than 1 in 20 people worldwide. The majority of these people do not have the funds to buy hearing aids and the batteries required to keep them going. Currently, there are two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids in order to help those living in poverty to afford and power hearing aids.

Poverty and Hearing Aids

Approximately 89 percent of those who are hearing impaired live in low and middle-income countries. However, the production of hearing aids currently only meets around 10 percent of the need worldwide. Because traditional hearing aids are expensive, the majority of these hearing aids are going to those who can afford them. This typically means that people in developing countries are going without.

Traditional hearing aids typically cost around $1,000 and have an average battery life of only one to two weeks. Because of this huge financial barrier, solar-powered hearing aids are dramatically changing the accessibility of hearing aids for low-income people in developing countries. Even more importantly, they are cheaper and last longer than traditional hearing aids.

Godisa Technologies was a Botswana-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that began research on the solar-powered hearing aid in 1992. Godisa Technologies aimed to manufacture hearing aids that were accessible to those with hearing disabilities in Africa and throughout the developing world. Godisa Technologies shut down in 2008 due to a lack of funding, but its research led to two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Solar Ear and Deaftronics provide inexpensive and long-lasting hearing aids all across the developing world.

Solar Ear

Solar Ear is a solar-powered hearing aid company based out of Brazil. Solar Ear’s hearing aid was designed by Howard Weinstein, a former Peace Corps volunteer at Godisa Technologies. These hearing aids only cost around $100 and have a battery lifespan of around three years, which is approximately one-tenth of the price of traditional hearing aids for 150 times the lifespan.

Solar Ear designs their hearing aids specifically for young children living in regions without access to deaf education. Their mission is to provide solar-powered hearing aids to children before the age of three so that they can learn to communicate and receive an education alongside their hearing peers. The hearing aids are manufactured and produced by people with disabilities in Brazil, Botswana and China. They are now available in more than 40 countries.

Deaftronics

Deaftronics is another company pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Deaftronics was created in 2009 by Tendekayi Katsiga, another former employee of Godisa Technologies. Katsiga, like Weinstein, knew that Godisa’s hearing aids were still too expensive for many people to afford and wanted to build a company that took this technology a step further.

Deaftronics provides solar-powered hearing aids along with four rechargeable batteries for $200. These hearing aids have an overall lifespan of up to twelve years. By 2015, Deaftronics had already sold more than 10,000 hearing aids to people in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and Angola. But, Katsiga became convinced that solar-powered hearing aids alone could not be the only solution to hearing loss. In an attempt to provide a cheap and easy way to catch hearing loss early and prevent it from worsening, Deaftronics has also produced a mobile app that allows people to test for early signs of hearing loss.

Solar powered hearing aids have become readily accessible in many developing countries due to the dedication of Solar Ear and Deaftronics. These two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids have changed the world for those who previously could not afford them. The technology has been crucial in making hearing aids accessible to the world’s poor. Thanks to solar-powered hearing aids, children who would otherwise be unable to learn to talk or communicate are able to go to school and learn regardless of where they live or how much money their families have.

Macklyn Hutchison

Photo: Flickr

children with disabitiesThere are approximately 1.5 billion people around the world living with a disability. These individuals face significant barriers to receiving an education, particularly in developing countries. Children with disabilities in Bangladesh, for example, are often misunderstood by their parents, community members and educators, making it difficult for them to attend school. Showing links between poverty and disabilities helps make this issue a priority of the Bangladesh government and other organizations working in the nation.

Poverty and Disabilities

In developing countries, poverty and disabilities often reinforce each other. According to the World Bank, 15 to 20 percent of the poor in developing countries are disabled. Many disabilities are created by conditions caused by poverty, including lack of healthcare access, poor hygiene and sanitation, dangerous living conditions, war and violence, insufficient nutrition and natural disasters. These conditions improve the likelihood of people developing disabilities in the first place, of which 50 percent are preventable.

Being disabled is an additional disadvantage for the impoverished, one that makes it even less likely for an individual or their family to rise out of poverty. When access to education for children with disabilities is low, these children are not able to learn the skills needed to work and earn money for themselves or their families. As a result, they tend to be dependents their entire lives, creating an additional economic burden for those who care for them.

In Bangladesh, husbands and wives in impoverished families often both need to work. With a disabled child, however, mothers are often prevented from working, eliminating that source of income. Additionally, medical care for the child is expensive and generally inaccessible to impoverished families in Bangladesh. While it is not the child’s fault that they are disabled, their disability can be difficult for impoverished families to bear and may make it impossible for them to break the poverty cycle.

Barriers to Education

As of 2010, there were approximately 1.6 million children with disabilities in Bangladesh, and fewer than 5,000 of them were enrolled in education programs designed for the disabled. Special education programs are not present in many Bangladesh schools. As a result, most educators are not trained to effectively work with children with disabilities.

Many schools deny admittance to children with disabilities, and those who do go to school often drop out within a short period of time. In addition to lack of adequate programming, the school buildings themselves are often inaccessible to those with disabilities. They lack elevators, automatic doors, handicapped toilet facilities and more.

Furthermore, the impoverished parents of children with disabilities in Bangladesh are often illiterate and do not have access to information about the rights of their child. They may not know that their child has a constitutional right to an education. Furthermore, even if they do know, they lack the funds needed to fight for their child.

Families and communities sometimes also lack information about what it means to be disabled, particularly if they are poor and illiterate. Children with disabilities are sometimes neglected and ignored and are often kept inside the home to prevent ridicule from the community. Abuse is also common, particularly for girls. Females are at an increased risk of physical and sexual abuse.

Improving Access to Education

The government is working to implement reforms that will increase education access to children with disabilities in Bangladesh. Many of these reforms include ensuring knowledge about the disabled is more widely disseminated. Community awareness programs are needed to teach people about disabilities, reduce stigma and generate more support for improving education for children with disabilities.

Additionally, knowledge of disabilities must be included in the basic training of teachers, and it can be reinforced or introduced to current teachers through in-service training. While it is also beneficial to have some teachers who can specialize in working with children with disabilities, all teachers need to be trained so that disabled children have a better chance of succeeding in any classroom.

Programs for Children with Disabilities

As of 2011, the government opened 13 primary schools specifically for people with disabilities. They are also implementing 64 integrated programs within high schools for the disabled. These efforts are undoubtedly making an impact, but many children with disabilities may not have access to these locations. There is a definite need to significantly expand these programs, creating more schools focused on disabilities around the country and ensuring all schools have programs for children with disabilities.

In the absence of widespread disability programming at public schools, BRAC has been working to expand education for children with disabilities in Bangladesh. More than 30,000 non-formal education centers have been established across the nation over the past two decades, and currently, 43,000 children are using these education centers. BRAC is committed to ensuring that the impoverished children and those in remote areas have access to schools.

Overall, efforts by the government and outside agencies, including BRAC, are an important step forward, but further growth and expansion are needed to ensure that all children with disabilities in the nation are able to access high-quality education. This will reduce the economic burden on their families and, hopefully, allow them to find work once they reach adulthood, helping them and their families escape poverty.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Aged and Disabled in UkraineThe elderly population is the fastest growing age group worldwide, and two-thirds of its population lives in low-income and middle-income countries. Such geographic locations have greater likelihoods of humanitarian crises, and the impacts of humanitarian disasters in these countries are more severe. Research shows the aged and disabled in Ukraine also have higher rates of poverty than younger, non-disabled people, making them more vulnerable during disasters. More than one-fifth of Ukraine’s population (more than 9.5 million people) were over the age of 60 in 2018. The country also is facing one of the world’s most acute global crises today.

Increased Vulnerability and Disproportionate Effects

According to HelpAge International (HAI), marginalization is having greater effects on older individuals, especially older women and the disabled. Since 2014, older persons have constituted more than one-third of the conflict-affected population — equivalent to more than one million people. Many of them have fled their homes due to violence along the contact line — a line dividing government-controlled areas (GCA) from non-government-controlled areas (NGCA). The number of affected people continues to rise as the ceaseless fighting impacts the mental health of the aged and disabled in Ukraine. These populations must contend with widespread landmines and restricted access to nutrition, healthcare, housing, pensions, fuel and public transportation.

Residents living along either side of the contact line and in NGCA are among the most vulnerable in Ukraine because humanitarian access is severely restricted in these areas.

The majority of individuals residing in and displaced from NGCA collect pensions. However, they can claim their pensions only if they are registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in GCA. They must also undergo complex and discriminatory vetting for pension verification, including home visits, physical identification in banks and additional safeguards. This approach is riddled with liabilities and creates serious humanitarian consequences because pensions are the sole source of income for most pensioners in NGCA. If approved, administrative requirements demand the aged and disabled travel through five checkpoints along the contact line every few months to avoid pension suspension. These individuals spend 50 to 80 percent of their monthly pension on travel expenses. Consequently, many seniors are cut off from their pensions because they either are physically unable to travel to GCA or cannot afford the trip.

Pensions are not the only reason seniors cross the contact line. They also cross to visit with family, obtain documentation and access medical services. The many restrictions imposed on crossing result in older and disabled persons waiting at entry and exit checkpoints for extended periods of time without adequate facilities like toilets, drinking water or shelter. Red tape often prohibits them from crossing with necessary items like medications and food as these may not be permitted goods. People also must renew their electronic passes on regular basis if they plan to cross — a near impossibility for much of the senior population who has no computer or internet access. These conditions are detrimental to the well-being of the aged and disabled, creating a dire need for mental health services, psychosocial support and life-saving aid.

Forgotten in the Midst of Crises

Marginalizing the older and disabled during disasters is not unique to Ukraine. In 2015, HAI interviewed hundreds of seniors across Ukraine, Lebanon and South Sudan. In all three countries, there was evidence of neglect. Most interviewees said they had never met with anyone to discuss their needs nor did they have sufficient information about available assistance. Almost 50 percent complained that health services were not equipped to treat their age-related conditions, and nearly half said they suffered from anxiety or depression.

Humanitarian Relief for the Aged and Disabled in Ukraine

HAI has worked with the elderly in Ukraine for more than 10 years and has provided them with community safe spaces. The organization has also directed advocacy and coordination efforts with NGOs and UN agencies to ensure that seniors are not excluded from receiving services and psychosocial support. HAI has established support groups and provided home-based care activities, assistive devices and hygiene kits to those of advanced age. However, despite the organization’s humanitarian assistance, a survey they conducted in 2018 showed that those aged 60 and older are still suffering.

The findings were echoed at a 2018 conference organized by the European Commission and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Brussels. The conference highlighted the support that the WHO and partners have given Ukraine to help combat the devastating effects of the country’s ongoing crisis. During the conference, it also was noted that despite the efforts of the WHO and its health partners, Ukrainian health needs still are on the rise. Speakers attributed the lack of improvement to a weak health system, limited disease prevention and insufficient treatment for chronic illnesses.

The conference also confirmed that the European Union (EU) will provide an additional €24 million to conflict-affected persons in eastern Ukraine, bringing their aid total for Ukraine to more than €677 million. The money will be used to fulfill the essential needs of the most vulnerable populations along the contact line, including IDPs and those in NGCA.

With coordinated efforts and increased humanitarian funding, permanent change for Ukraine is on the horizon.

– Julianne Russo
Photo: Pixabay