Ageing and Disability Focal Points – providing the essential link

14 April, 2014 - Gordon Rattray

I’m in the Philippines, near the coast on Panay Island, and good internet connections seem few and far between. In a way we’re so busy that it’s a not so bad to have no email for a day or two (don’t tell anyone I said that), but I’ve so much I want to share!

It’s almost five months since typhoon Haiyan tore across this beautiful country, destroying homes and lives. With our partners here, CBM provided essential relief supplies in the beginning, ensuring that people with disabilities were not forgotten, and are now working on longer term recovery and rehabilitation.

Santy Villianueva (ADFP Community Organiser) in Estancia

You remember my colleague David Lewis talking about the Ageing and Disability Focal Points  being set up by CBM and our partner Association of Disabled People (ADPI). Here, in the coastal towns of Concepcion and Estancia, in Iloilo province, I’m seeing them in action.

Their goal – if I can take a second to explain – is to make sure that people with disabilities and older people receive the services they need. To maximise resources they do this by identifying the services that exist (noting what they can provide), and the people with the needs (noting what these are). Types of support include help in finding work (livelihood), rebuilding homes, assistive devices, etc… They can then efficiently act as a specialised ‘middle man’, and as well as improving the lives of the individual people, they will improve the awareness of disability inclusion in the existing ‘mainstream’ services.

But enough of the theory…

Merlin (database creator for the Ageing and Disability Focal Points, ADFPs) gives a brief demo of the system to the visiting CBM staff

Merlin (database creator for the Ageing and Disability Focal Points, ADFPs) gives a brief demo of the system to the visiting CBM staff

On Tuesday we met the ‘tech’ guy (Merlin), who delighted in explaining the database system they’ve developed to store all the info (I’m a bit of a geek myself so this was fine with me).

And yesterday l went on a trip with a Focal Point team to one of the island ‘barangays’ (communities) as they visited people in their homes, finding out what their specific needs are. Despite the distances and the heat they were super-efficient.


Me being helped from the boat

Me being helped from the boat


Once the boat docked, they split up, armed with clipboards and pens, and set off on foot to get the info that will go into Merlin’s database. I believe 15 people were interviewed in a couple of hours.

And it wasn’t their first visit here. When they were busy interviewing, I met Melmar, whose wheelchair was taken by the Haiyan storm surge and discovered days later, on the ocean edge, broken and useless. As a result of a previous Focal Point visit he was referred to the relevant service, he has already been measured for a new chair and he will receive it soon.

Melmar (who makes fishing nets, among other things, to earn a living)

Melmar (who makes fishing nets, among other things, to earn a living)


I’ve got to know a few of the focal point workers too. As well as having the required background and experience for the job they’ve also all received three days’ training from ADPI, plus, most also have disabilities themselves, or have family members with a disability.


Alex Mendoza (left, Age and Disability Focal Point worker) interviewing Mamerto in his home

Alex Mendoza (left, Age and Disability Focal Point worker) interviewing Mamerto in his home




Their enthusiasm is infectious – Alex (who’s father has polio) spoke from her heart, saying that doing this job has has helped her better understand his challenges, while Santy (a single parent bringing up two children) is obviously a role model to many here; with pride, he showed us snapshots of several children and adults he’s helped as they’ve learned to live using prosthetic limbs (Santy is the man in the top picture).




There’s more – too much more for this blog – so I hope to get time (and internet access!) in the coming days to write again…

Gordon Rattray is the Communications Coordinator for CBM’s Emergency Response Unit

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This World Water Day is about more than water.

20 March, 2014 - Aleisha Carroll

Our four wheel drive bumped along an unmarked road up into the hills in the district of Liquica in Timor-Leste, the ocean growing spectacularly behind us, and I found myself thinking a lot about water.

As part of CBM and WaterAid’s partnership on disability inclusive WASH in Timor-Leste, I had spent the day with the WaterAid team visiting a village and I saw firsthand how water, a basic necessity of life, could be so scarce.


Access to improved water and sanitation in Timor-Leste is amongst the lowest in the region, as it is estimated only 69% of people have access to an improved water supply. For Timorese persons with disabilities, access to clean and safe water is even more challenging. They often cannot physically access water points and have to rely on others to collect water for them.

The long term access of persons with disabilities to water and other life saving facilities are a constant challenge. The WaterAid and partner teams explain they are committed not just to 100% geographical coverage, but coverage of every single person to access water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.  Through strong partnerships with other service providers and representative bodies such as the local Disabled Peoples Organisation, health and rehabilitation services, an integrated approach can be achieved.

Around the world, persons with disabilities are often not included in community meetings where water points are discussed. But when WaterAid and their partners began working with this community, the staff took the time to identify persons with disabilities in the sub-village, visited them and asked their needs. As a result, they now have an accessible waterpoint: its sloping ramp entry, adequate turning space and strategically positioned tap, promoted ease of use. However, the work of WaterAid and its partners doesn’t end with the waterpoint.

That day we met five year old Anna, who was carried on the shoulders of her grandfather, grinning as she clung to his head and joined us. Anna has a physical disability that affects her mobility and when she turns seven she will watch as other children leave to walk the two hours to the closest school over hilly terrain. The WaterAid staff were the first service of any kind to visit Anna since she was born.  Upon meeting her, the WaterAid team discussed possible referrals for Anna to attend a rehabilitation centre in Dili, where assessment and support may be given to improve her mobility, and have begun working with schools in the district to install accessible waterpoints.

As World Water Day approaches, 22nd March, I am reminded that it is not just about access to water, but a holistic approach to community accessibility, that values the participation of all members of its community.


Aleisha Carroll is a technical advisor in disability inclusive development at CBM Australia. CBM and WaterAid Australia work in partnership on disability inclusive WASH programs.

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6 March, 2014 - Chelsea Huggett

This year, I am stoked that the theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is Inspiring Change.  Why? Because women with disabilities are inspiring change and IWD is a great opportunity to celebrate their achievements.


ADPI’s Annalyn (right) talks with Joy Decena, a 52 year old polio survivor who uses a crutch to walk. Joy described how she hid from the typhoon inside her home because she could not evacuate in time.

Four months ago I joined CBM’s rapid needs assessment team in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. I spent two weeks working in a grueling, fast paced and urgent environment.  I remember feeling as though there weren’t enough hours in each day to meet the needs of those devastated by the typhoon.  I have never worked so hard and when it sometimes felt overwhelming, it was my colleagues who inspired me to keep going. More to the point it was the women I worked with who inspired me. CBM’s team partnered with a local organization, the Association of Disabled Persons Ilo Ilo (ADPI) to do a needs assessment and deliver immediate relief.  ADPI’s team included several women who worked stoically for endless hours to organize food and non-food relief, coordinate volunteers and carry out community assessments.  These women, who live with disabilities themselves, dispelled the myth of people with disabilities as recipients of aid.  Instead these women led the humanitarian response, making an invaluable contribution to the lives of many vulnerable people affected by the typhoon.  These women were inspiring change.


IMG_0026_resizedforBlogIn a world where women with disabilities are among the poorest and most marginalized, it was one of the most empowering experiences I have been part of.  Women with disabilities face triple jeopardy in their lives due to their gender; their disability and living in poverty.  Working alongside the team in the Philippines, I could hardly begin to imagine what barriers these women must have overcome in their lifetime. I don’t doubt that they knew firsthand what discrimination looked like and how it felt to be marginalized.  In the communities, the women would meet with victims of the typhoon, other women with disabilities who had lost everything. The victims drew inspiration and encouragement from receiving support from another woman with a disability.

Feeling inspired? Celebrate this International Women’s Day, with stories of inspiring change from women with disabilities told completely in their own words. Let Sieng Sok Chann from Cambodia inspire you:


or Kazol Rekha from Bangladesh inspire you with their stories told in their own words:

Join the movement of people speaking out about the cycle of poverty and disability alongside people with disabilities in the poorest countries. Sign up to End the Cycle today.

Chelsea Huggett is the Policy and Advocacy Officer at CBM Australia.

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‘Typhoon Haiyan: the long road to recovery three months on…

7 February, 2014 - David Lewis

Just before Christmas I had the privilege of being part of a Community Mental Health assessment in the Typhoon Haiyan zone of the Philippines. The assessment was conducted by Dr Nick Rose, a Senior Psychiatrist from Oxford in the UK and Mr Willy Reyes, CBM’s Mental Health Coordinator in the Philippines.


CBM conducted this assessment, because we are keen to work with others in ensuring high quality mental health services are available for communities affected by the typhoon. It is also very important that these same communities grow in their understanding of mental health issues, including opportunities for referral and how everyone can be part of building inclusion for all community members.

Maria and her mother

Maria and her mother. The house is still in disrepair and the family is living under tarpaulins. Photo: CBM

During Nick and Willys’ visit we travelled by boat to the island community I wrote about in one of my previous blog posts. I again had the privilege of meeting Maria and her family described in the blog. Since my earlier visit, Maria’s mother had been able to take her by boat to the Concepcion Rural Health Centre, where she had been treated previously. This health centre sustained severe damage during the typhoon, due to both the ferocious winds and storm surge which flooded the town. Despite damage to their own homes, health centre staff have worked tirelessly to re-establish services, including for remote communities.


Thanks to the work of the health centre, Maria is again on medication which helps to control both her epilepsy and mood swings. When I introduced Nick and Willy to Maria and her parents, I was very encouraged to see how much calmer and more settled she is. During discussions Nick conducted with the family, it became clear how difficult life has been for this family over the long term and especially in the period since the typhoon.

Their situation made me reflect on the many other people like Maria who still need to access good services. We were told that there are a number of people with mental health conditions on various islands, the most disturbed of whom are chained to stop them wandering. People told us this is done for their own protection, as families have to find other options when treatment is not available. It is very possible the trauma caused by the typhoon may have worsened life for these people and also triggered mental health conditions in others. It is clear that high quality, sustained Community Mental Health services are essential so that people do not have to suffer painful chaining and other indignities when simple, affordable treatment can be made available.


The ‘Ageing and Disability Focal Points’ I wrote about in my blog of January 10th are very important in helping people with mental health conditions access the treatment they need, and to assist in creating wider awareness about mental health issues and the importance of ‘building back better’ following the devastation caused by the typhoon.

Maria’s family home is still severely damaged. They are living under tarpaulins provided in part through CBM and our partner organisation the Association of Disabled Persons, Iloilo. The family still has no access to any solid livelihood to sustain their daily living needs.

The ‘focal points’ are therefore also a very  important hub for linking people like Maria and her family with mainstream opportunities for restored shelter and livelihoods, and to general health care and food until their lives are re-established.

Thank you to our wonderful supporters who make it possible for CBM to work with people like Maria and her family, together with so many other people with disabilities affected by the typhoon. The ‘Ageing and Disability Focal Points’ we are establishing thanks to our supporters will ensure a long term difference for some of the poorest people in affected communities.


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Philippines – Making a difference to someone who lost everything

6 February, 2014 - David Lewis

I just turned 60, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose everything and have to start again – at this age, or any age.

Henry is 63. When Typhoon Haiyan hit his island off the coast of Concepcion in the Philippines, he knew the storm would be very destructive, but he had not anticipated so much loss.

I have now met Henry a couple of times. CBM with our partner team from the ‘Association of Disabled Persons, Iloilo’ (ADPI) distributed relief in Henry’s village. This included food and other important items, such as heavy plastic roof tarpaulins, mosquito nets, blankets and torch lamps. This time we had returned to do a post-distribution survey, to decide on our important next steps in the relief and recovery effort.


It was during the survey, that Henry invited me to visit his home. Henry’s right leg was amputated when he was in his 20s, after an accident. I could not believe how quickly he navigated his way along the rocky path using his single crutch. In fact I couldn’t keep up with him.

When we arrived, I was horrified to see the destruction. Henry and his wife Rosalie’s home, together with those of other family members close by, were almost totally destroyed.


They told me their story. They have a very close-knit family, who work together and support each other. They told me with tears that Rosalie’s sister and nephew drowned in the storm surge. As well as their homes, their fishing boats and nets have been destroyed.

Their other main source of livelihood comes from the coconut palms on the hill behind their village.  Up to 60% of these magnificent, tall trees have been smashed to the ground by the typhoon. The trees remaining, will take several years to come into full production again.


Henry and his family are resourceful, with real ‘get up and go’. I saw how they had already used the tarpaulins provided through CBM and ADPI to make temporary repairs to their house.

We have now done another distribution of essential items in Henry’s village. However what I really love about the work I do for CBM is that we are here seeking to make a difference well into the future.


Working with our partner organisation ADPI, we are part of immediate rebuilding and also working with people like Henry, his family and community to build long-term resilience. We are doing this through the ‘Ageing and Disability Focal Points’ we are establishing together with Government and other organisations.

The ‘focal points’ will link people like Henry with a range of opportunities. These include the rebuilding of more resilient homes and long-term livelihoods. They will also ensure people with disabilities access general medical care and receive essential assistive devices, such as crutches, wheelchairs, walkers and glasses. The ‘focal points’ will also act as important hubs to help people access specialist services such as cataract or orthopaedic surgery, or treatment of mental health conditions.

I am very grateful for the privilege of working with CBM and being part of building long term recovery and resilience.

Thank-you to CBM’s wonderful supporters who make it possible for us to do this very worthwhile work.

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