Saturday, November 21, 2015

Addressing Persons with Disabilities in Rural Cameroon

Last week my girlfriend and colleague Rachel visited Mbakaou to initiate a health training at my local health center.  Let me take a step back.  While I have primarily worked in health education with my main supervising body being the local health center, Rachel works with a disability support organization in the Northwestern city of Bamenda.  She regularly works with persons with disabilities, performs workshops for groups of men and women with disabilities and goes on a weekly radio show to discuss different issues for persons with disabilities among other projects.  It is often unusual for there to be strong support systems for persons with disabilities even in a city.  In the country side it is even rarer and often dependent on support systems from nearby cities.  Such support is more common in the Northwest.  In places like my region of Adamawa, it can often be rare.  This is a large problem that is often ignored by foreign organizations despite the fact that 95% persons with disability in Cameroon live under the poverty line. Thus for the last few months we have been discussing a project that could bring increased support for persons living with disability in my rural Adamawa village of Mbakaou.

I finally got to show Rachel around my post and I got to see her for the first time in one and a half months (it takes two and a half days to get from my post to hers, it actually takes less time to get from the capital of Yaounde to the United States), but we wasted no time in getting to work. The day after she arrived we started a workshop at the health center to train health workers and community mobilizers on the struggles of people with disabilities, added vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities and statistics illustrating the situation.  Over the course of the two day workshop, ten health workers and community mobilizers attended the workshop, and eight of the ten attended the full two days.  Along with educating the volunteers about the struggles and vulnerabilities we had a series of activities to illustrate our points.  We had the volunteers write their name with their writing hand, then their non-writing hand, then their writing hand on top of a book on top of their head and then with their non-writing hand doing the same thing.  We also had them listen to a monologue with cotton balls in their ears and race each other to the health center wearing blindfolds with guides providing only verbal support. 

Rachel’s pre and post tests showed very encouraging results and proof of our volunteers new found appreciation and understanding of issues for persons with disabilities.  Yet the largest proof of the workshop encouraging the volunteers to be proactive with disabled individuals was their demand to start a new support group immediately.  Before Rachel left we had held our first disability support group meeting in the health center, created an action plan and a constitution and chose a leader for the group.  The individuals of the first meeting were all physically handicapped and some needed help from the community organizers getting to the meeting. 

Since that time, we have had another meeting coordinated by my friend and community organizer Mohammed “FBI” Yaya and myself with the group.  The group is in it’s early stages but I am excited that the members are clear about their interest and their agreed upon goal to start income generating activities.  I can only hope this is a beginning to greater progress for the members of the group and the disabled community as a whole in Mbakaou.

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