WASH and disability inclusion

22 March, 2015 - Kathryn James

Kathryn James is a Senior Technical Advisor in the Inclusive Development Department of CBM Australia. Her role includes supporting and providing advice to non-government organisations to make their programming inclusive of people with disabilities. In this blog, she shares why access to clean, safe water is important for all – including people with disabilities: 

I recently traveled to Western Province in Papua New Guinea to participate in a workshop for a World Vision WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project. CBM is partnering with World Vision to support disability inclusion within the four-year project in the Western Province of PNG, the country’s largest and most remote province. With few roads, most villages are located along rivers, accessible only by boat and often many hours away by motor-boat from the capital, Daru.

 By traditional canoe, the journey can take much longer. In this type of environment water rules daily life, as the tides determine when journeys can be taken and a high tide can flood villages temporarily. My visit was during the rainy season, and heavy falls of rain punctuated each day. Yet despite the apparent abundance of water, access to clean, safe drinking water is a big issue.

 In a village two hours’ from Daru by motorboat, community members reported that they mainly sourced water for drinking and cooking from a stream about 20 minutes’ walk from the village. Unclean drinking water can lead to water-borne diseases and is a problem for all the villagers, but for people with disabilities simply accessing water at all can be difficult.

 If a physical or vision impairment means they are unable to travel to collect water, they often have to rely on family members for their water needs. Rain and floods can create a slippery, unsafe environment that is hard for people with disabilities to navigate. And women with disabilities in particular can face stigma or discrimination if they cannot fulfil this essential household task, as the job of collecting water most often falls to women.

 Despite the challenges, the villagers were keen to improve their water, sanitation and hygiene situation. They showed us ‘tippy taps’ they had built to make handwashing simple despite the lack of running water. Tippy taps are built from a plastic bottle and a rope hanging from a stand. Filled with water, the bottles can be ‘tipped’ for handwashing. Simple adaptations, such as ensuring the environment around the taps is not slippery or the installation of a handrail, can help make the taps accessible to people with mobility impairments.


An accessible 'tippy tap', part of the WASH program in Papua New Guinea.

An accessible ‘tippy tap’, part of the WASH program in Papua New Guinea.


The WASH project is working to provide sources of clean water, including via rainwater tanks, in schools and health clinics within villages in Western Province. It is also promoting handwashing and other hygiene practices, and supporting toilet construction.

 Together with the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons, CBM is providing technical support to help staff understand the WASH needs of people with disabilities, and ensure that the project’s activities are inclusive. Disability inclusion will be considered in many aspects of the project, including the design and location of tanks, taps and other infrastructure, ensuring hygiene promotion materials are accessible to those with hearing, vision and intellectual impairments, and involving people with disabilities in water management committees. The project staff at the workshop were enthusiastic about inclusion, and keen to learn more about how they could ensure the WASH needs of people with disabilities are met.

 Following the workshop, the project’s team of community facilitators spent several weeks journeying by boat to remote PNG villages, gathering information about people’s WASH needs and priorities, as well as data on the numbers of people with disability in the communities.

This is the first step to helping all people – especially those with a disability – to access clean, safe water. 



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Disaster Risk Reduction: a disability focus

18 March, 2015 - Luke Purcell

Luke Purcell is a International Programs Officer at CBM Australia and is this week in Japan at the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. In this blog, Luke shares his experiences at the conference working with CBM partner organisations and meeting a young woman with disability who now works in her community to ensure people with disabilities aren’t forgotten when disasters strike:

We are now half way through our time at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. The CBM crew here includes
Valerie Scherrer (CBM Emergency Response Unit (ERU) Director), Gordon Rattray (CBM ERU Communications Coordinator), Benjamin Dard (CBM Technical Advisor for Accessibility), Elizabeth Lockwood (CBM UN Advocacy Officer) and myself. Additionally, we are privileged to be accompanied by our valuable in-country partners, networks of organisations and people that support our messages for disability inclusion and inclusive disaster risk reduction.

 One of CBM’s key partners is the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), a National Disability Organisation from Bangladesh. It’s been wonderful having them here with us and has provided opportunities to learn together, share ideas and reflect on topics that the Centre staff can apply to their work. We also have the pleasure of being accompanied by Kazol Rekha from Gaibandha, Bangladesh, who received support from CDD a few years ago through a disaster risk reduction project. Many of you might recognise Kazol from our End the Cycle video.  

Presenting at the conference alongside CDD, Kazol briefly told her story and spoke about her work and participation in developing resilience within her own community, to better prepare and respond to extreme weather – notably floods. She described how she’s been involved in flood risk planning, raising awareness and promoting the rights of women and people with disabilities in all aspects of community life. But as she exemplified during the conference, women with disability are critically important to building resilient communities and ensuring that no one is left behind. Kazol is now a member of the local government’s disaster risk reduction committee.

Kazol Rekha and  Centre for Disability in Development Assistant Director Gopal Saha Broja present at the UN World Coference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Kazol Rekha (centre) and CDD Assistant Director Gopal Saha Broja (L) present at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.


It’s incredible to see how far Kazol has come since she first received support from CDD a few years ago. She now speaks with conviction and unwavering confidence, wholeheartedly passionate about her cause.

 Reflecting on Kazol’s achievements, I realise she is testament to the increasing perception and attitudinal shift that’s been evident during the conference. People with disability have previously been thought of as vulnerable groups during emergency and disaster situations. In times of emergency and disaster people with disability are at increased risk, but through inclusive disaster risk reduction you reduce the vulnerability of all people in a community and that includes women, children and people with disability. Through inclusive approaches you reduce the risk of impact from disasters for everyone. 

The increased visibility in disability inclusion at the UN conference is especially timely given the recent devastation brought upon Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam. Many people with disability in Vanuatu found it difficult to reach safety and found themselves in life-threatening situations. Emergency relief  efforts will need to involve people with disability as key stakeholders in planning and implementation to ensure everyone in the community receives support.

 Now people recognise and actively seek the positive contribution people with disability bring to all forms of development, including disaster risk reduction. People with disability are ‘key stakeholders’ in the post 2015 disaster risk reduction framework.

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Empowering women with disabilities – why it’s vital to our societies

7 March, 2015 - CBM Australia

Jane Edge joined CBM Australia in 2012 as the organisation’s Chief Operating Officer. In this blog, she answers questions about her role as a woman in leadership, shares her personal experiences of empowerment and talks about how empowerment of women in poverty with disabilities transforms not only their lives, but those of their families and communities:

 What have been your experiences on your recent trip to the Philippines meeting some of our beneficiaries? Can you recall one woman in particular who has been empowered, and the changes that have occurred in her life? Were there any lessons learned, or anything that challenged your beliefs about people in poverty with a disability?

Meeting families who are part of a  CBM-Australia -supported program in Cebu really brought home to me the life-changing impact of CBM’s work. The commitment and courage in particular of a woman named Lita will stay with me for a very long time.

Lita has shown others who have children with disabilities that there is hope for their sons and daughters; that it is possible for them to live meaningful lives and enrich their communities.

Lita and her husband, Boboy, have five children; one of them, Gerald, has cerebral palsy. Lita and Boboy were determined to help their son and every day they carried Gerald to school and would help him sit up so he could learn. They did this day after day, year after year.

When Gerald was 15, his family found out about the community based program for children with disabilities being run by a CBM partner organisation. Lita learned how to support Gerald with daily physical therapy and built her own confidence through leadership training given to parents. Now 23, Gerald has completed vocational training in electronics and has set up shop repairing sound speakers. He contributes to the family income, has a strong friendship group and gets invited to social events….often as the DJ! It is an extraordinary transformation.


Gerald, Lita's son, received training to be an electronic repairman.

Gerald, Lita’s son, received training through CBM’s partner program to be an electronic repairman.

It was very clear that many other local women have been inspired by Lita’s example. She is a great source of strength and supports other parents who are doing what all parents strive to do – give their children the best possible chance in life. Parents are now able to demand local services that allow their children with disabilities to reach their full potential: to be mobile, to learn, to grow, to participate, to belong and to contribute.

Gerald and Lita’s story is the story of CBM. They are why we do what we do. My biggest learning – the extent to which including people with disabilities changes everyone for the better.


 As a woman in leadership at CBM, what have your personal experiences been of the importance of empowering women in the workforce?

 I am passionate about enabling others to achieve their potential and women have a particularly valuable contribution to make in the workforce. In CBM Australia, four of the eight senior management team members are women and we have many talented women in a variety of roles throughout the organisation.

In my experience, ensuring women have structured opportunities to develop, support through mentoring, and a strong sense of self-belief are key to career progression and satisfaction. Also providing flexibility in the workplace that allows women and men to balance work and other dimensions of life is vital, particularly for working parents so that caring for children and keeping things on an even keel on the homefront is more actively shared.


What do you feel the biggest challenges are facing women – and particularly women with disabilities? How can we better empower them to make lasting change?

Persistent gender inequality continues to disadvantage women on a dramatic scale. Women and girls remain vulnerable, experiencing poverty at higher rates than men and boys.

This is compounded by the impact of living with disability, which is the experience for up to 1 in 5 women. For women with disabilities in poor communities, the barriers are enormous. They face triple discrimination – being female, having a disability and being among the poorest of the poor.

Women with disabilities are amazing, resourceful and resilient and can lift themselves and their families out of poverty if given real opportunity to do so. That’s exactly what CBM Australia seeks to do both in the programs we directly fund, and in our partnerships with the Australian Government and organisations like ours which, if they’re also going to achieve their mission of alleviating poverty, must intentionally include people with disabilities in everything they do.

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A Message to our Supporters – Reflecting on 2014

29 December, 2014 - Steph Gaut

What an incredible year it’s been! Together, we’ve been able to change the lives of people with disability in developing countries.

Through Miracles Day, collectively we helped restore sight to 18,534 of the world’s poorest people living with cataract blindness.

That’s 18,534 lives changed forever! It was so inspiring to have four of our Christian radio station partners join us in Tanzania.  Over Miracles Day, they were able to broadcast to you live from Tanzania their first-hand experience as they witnessed the journey from darkness to sight unfold before them during cataract surgery.

Our incredible supporters helped us reach a total of 18,534 sight-restoring surgeries - well above our goal of 10,000!

Some of the CBM team ceelbrate reaching 15,000 Miracle Gifts of Sight on Miracles Day. Our incredible supporters helped us reach a total of 18,534 sight-restoring surgeries – well above our goal of 10,000!


Back home, we’ve hosted over 20 public events around the country where we’ve been privileged to meet so many members of the CBM family! It’s been a wonderful way to meet so many supporters face-to-face and hear your kind words.

One of CBM’s major events for 2014 was the inaugural ‘Luke14 Honest Conversations’ conference held in Melbourne in July. This conference was an incredible event, aimed at equipping Australian church communities to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. It was fantastic to see over 100 people come together to participate in workshops, and learn from some dynamic guest speakers.

As you’re probably aware, this year hasn’t been without its challenges – we’ve been greatly strengthened by the powerful and encouraging prayers and support from around the country.  You have helped us to keep the most vulnerable people safe during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the Cholera outbreak in Sudan.   Through prayer and giving, you have brought great comfort to people living in poverty with disability, as well as our co-workers, staff and volunteers.

Your ongoing support will help us continue to work with local partners, based in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Kenya and Bangladesh, to name just a few.  We’ll be looking at new and interesting ways to share stories of the life-changing work that is made possible only through the support of people like YOU throughout 2015.

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Make Your Attitude Count – a personal disability perspective

2 December, 2014 - CBM Australia

To celebrate International Day of People With Disability (IDPWD), we are thrilled to hear from An Nguyen. An came from Vietnam to study a Masters (Research)  of Health Sciences in Australia, and is currently a Research volunteer at CBM. Here is her personal account of what life was like growing up as a girl living with disability in a developing country, and how she’s working together with CBM to change negative attitudes, discrimination and stigma towards people with disabilities.

An Nguyen grew up in Vietnam living with a disability. She is currently a Research volunteer at CBM

An Nguyen grew up in Vietnam living with a disability. She is currently a Research volunteer at CBM.

“I suffered from polio when I was four years old. In my hometown, a small village in the middle of Vietnam, it was not easy for me to integrate into the community at that time. It seems that I was isolated during my childhood,  I was even hit by my friends at schools. I found it very difficult to go to school and have a good friend, just because I am a girl with physical disability.

I used to think: “I want to give up my dream, or even consider being suicidal”. However, the love of my parents helped me out of negative thinking and I could continue going to school. I ignored the mockery and stood all the bad things from my friends. I stated that I had to go to school, because my good marks made my parents happy.

The stigmatised discourse towards people with disabilities can give them an inferiority complex, which results in losing opportunities to change their lives. Being a person with disability, I acknowledge these barriers impacedt my life as well as people with disabilities in Vietnam. So I wanted to change my life, I wanted to break the “invisible rules” and also improve the awareness of people in the communities. Thus, I dreamed to study oversea and made a plan for that when I was an undergraduate student. Luckily, I got a full scholarship from Australian Government. I currently study at La Trobe University, Melbourne. Certainly, I have learnt a lot of things from the university, Australian friends, and CBM as well.

When I began living in Australia for my study, I wanted to contact any organization related to people with disabilities. I never stopped finding the information about this. One day, my friend told me about CBM Australia and I really felt fantastic. The first day I came to CBM for a workshop, I said “I want to be a volunteer here”. And now I am a research volunteer at CBM. I am happy with my work here. I am updating DID Stats and Facts. I believe that it will be very useful for CBM and other readers. I also really enjoy CBM’s environment. The staff are very nice and skillful. So I can improve my English skill, know more about Australian culture, and build a big network.

I am really passionate about researching people with disabilities because, based on my findings, I can give persuasive evidences that people with disabilities are human beings. They have a right to do anything they want. In the future, I would like to enhance the quality of life of Vietnamese people with disabilities. Particularly, I want to provide the basic information related to sexual and reproductive health issues, as well as improve the awareness of other people about disabilities.”


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