By Tobias Pflanz, CBM Field Communications Manager
It was a morning like any other when Denis began his journey towards walking free from Blount’s disease. Denis, who was eight at the time, sat watching his carer – half-sister Rora – prepare their breakfast in a pot over the open fire. They were having maize and cassava, mashed with groundnut sauce.
A cock was crowing. The smells of jackfruit and burning wood filled the air.
But this was no ordinary morning.
Having lived with Blount’s disease for most of his short life – a condition which bowed the bones of his lower legs outward, making walking extremely painful – Denis was about to receive an operation that would change everything.
Denis was full of smiles. He was ready.
A life-changing operation
At a CBM partner hospital just outside Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Denis met the doctor who would operate on his legs.
The doctor explained he would perform corrective surgery on Denis’s right leg – which was more severely affected – to straighten the bones. He would then fit Denis with a fixator, a device that would temporarily sit on the outside of his leg and continue to align his bones after he left the hospital.
On the left leg, the doctor would implant a small metal plate below the knee joint to stop the leg growing in the wrong direction. As Denis grew taller, the doctor explained, the leg would straighten itself.
A brave boy
Everything in surgery went according to plan and the next day, an exhausted Denis learnt it was time for his first round of physiotherapy.
It was at this point Denis showed everyone just how brave he was.
Despite an intense surgery and a rough first night, Denis gathered the strength to do his first exercise: walking between a set of parallel bars.
Slowly, despite the pain, Denis clenched his teeth and took a step. Then another. Holding tightly to the bars, he began to walk forward.
Life couldn’t be more different!
One year on and life couldn’t be more different for nine-year-old Denis.
Following several months of checkups and physiotherapy exercises, Denis is on his way to a complete recovery.
And he loves everything his new life has to offer.
He can run. He can jump. He can bend his legs and kneel down. And after years of watching other children play, he can now join in!
Denis can also walk to school without any pain and take part in all school activities. He’s now in year one and his teachers report he’s not only doing well with his studies but is happier and more confident too.
For all children like Denis
Denis’s story shows just how much of a difference your gifts to CBM make. When children face the dual challenge of both poverty and disability, it can be difficult for them – and their families – to see a way out. When you partner with CBM, you create opportunities for children like Denis.
I pray that every time you see his face on the calendar this March, you remember your support continues to help children all around the world, just like Denis.
Tobias Pflanz – CBM Field Communication Manager
One year ago this week, Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central pay someone to do essay Philippines. It was one of the most powerful storms on record, killing over 6000 people and affecting another 14 million.
CBM and its partners were on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the November 8 disaster to provide emergency support, and one year later we’re continuing to work in the hardest-hit places to make sure people with disabilities are included in all areas of relief efforts and rehabilitation.
How CBM has helped: a breakdown
Since Typhoon Haiyan struck, CBM and our partner organisations have been working to provide immediate relief support, as well as working on long-term strategies to ensure local communities are prepared with strategies for future disaster situations that will include people with disabilities.
During the past year, your support has:
- Helped over 62,000 people receive vital support
- Ensured more than 3800 vulnerable households received emergency supplies, such as food and clean water;
- Rebuilt and refurnished four school resource centres, with seven more in progress;
- Helped repair 135 damaged houses, supporting over 800 people;
- Ensured future houses for 100 families will be typhoon-resilient and accessible, with appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH);
- Trained six local partner organisations to understand and promote accessibility;
- Started a Community Mental Health program, providing services to 250 people with psychosocial disabilities, and training over 100 local health professionals in community mental health.
We’re hearing from people about just how grateful they are for the support they’ve received through CBM. Perlita, a mother of nine whose home was destroyed in the typhoon, says “Good thing the president of the persons with disabilities organisation (DPO) in our barangay told us that CBM would distribute relief packs. It was a huge blessing to us. We were short on rice and CBM was able to provide it to us.”
While it will most likely take a few years for communities to fully recover from the effects of Haiyan, CBM is tackling the need to rebuild as an opportunity to rebuild better. This means rebuilding not just houses and schools, but making sure employment opportunities, communities and services all become more accessible to people living with disabilities.
I’m not sure why I was so taken aback – after all, the conference was labelled ‘Honest Conversations.’ But as I sat and listened, I realised I still have so much to learn about the value of inclusion…
CBM’s Luke14 Honest Conversations conference took place in Melbourne on July 10 and 11. Over two days, more than 100 delegates were propelled into a world of challenging truths and sometimes-confronting situations that encouraged people to share intimate thoughts and feelings about the current state of disability inclusion in Australia’s church communities.
In his opening address, guest speaker Jeff McNair highlighted the ways in which Christian communities often overlooked people with disabilities as valuable and valued participants.
Integration, Jeff championed, was “absolutely critical” to any kind of disability ministry or program – and you “better have a doggone good reason as to why you’re not fully including people if you’re not!”
I could feel people shifting uncomfortably in their seats – I know I was. Our church absolutely includes people with disabilities! I was feeling silently indignant.
We have programs for people with disabilities don’t we? And I’m sure other people here have special programs too that cater specially for people with disabilities.
It was almost as if Jeff had read my mind. Because he continued: “Many ministries are designed, to a lesser or greater degree, to be segregated. These ministries range from churches for people with a disability where those without a disability work within the ‘disabled church’ to serve to segregated ministries, and to programs experiencing varying degrees of separation. But for the church to be the Church, we must acknowledge that segregated ministries send the wrong message.”
It was a powerful message: that true inclusion occurs only when people with disabilities receive the same opportunities and experiences as people without disabilities.
The conversations flowed freely over the two-day conference; people were sharing their deepest and most intimate thoughts, sharing experiences of exclusion and how it made them personally feel, and bonding and learning through some incredible panel discussions and workshops designed to enhance your understanding of disability experience in the church.
Among new-found friends and some fabulous food, I realised that inclusion was about more than just ‘ticking the boxes’. People with disabilities have rights to worship, study the Word and serve others in whichever faith community they choose to do so with full access to and support from their wider community.
Here’s looking to more Honest Conversations next year!
Rachel Wallbridge is an Advocacy and Policy Officer at CBM Australia and has a particular interest in gender issues.
Preventing and addressing violence against women and girls as well as their empowerment and participation is a topic that has always been very dear to my heart, and last year it took me to work with a Pan-African NGO in Ghana, West Africa. While I was somewhat prepared for facing gender challenges, what I saw with women and girls with disability was something I was not prepared for.
Globally, violence against women is an epidemic and ending it will require all the will, drive and savvy political manoeuvring leaders and local activists can muster. Yet violence against women and girls with disability remains a brutal and silent barrier to the fulfilment of human rights. The impact of sexual abuse and violence against women and girls with disability remains to be adequately acknowledged and discussed in many mainstream gender discussions, at both a local and international level. For example, most of the highly publicised and hashtagged Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London failed to meaningfully acknowledge the unique threats facing women and girls with disability.
Women and girls with disability are often at greater risk of violence, injury, abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation. Violence against women and girls with disability not only causes physical, psychological and social pain, but it’s also a significant barrier to a woman or girl with a disability meaningfully contributing to and participating in family and community life.
The facts are sobering. Women with a disability are two to three times more likely to be physically or sexually abused than women without a disability. Women with disability are also most vulnerable to abuse in their own homes, and women with an intellectual disability are particularly at risk and are also less likely to seek refuge or access redress than women with physical impairments.
Although women with disabilities experience many of the same forms of violence all women experience, the intersection of gender and disability means that violence takes on unique forms, has unique causes, and results in unique consequences. For example, people with disabilities can experience abuse such as withholding essential care and medications. Other abuses include physical, physiological, sexual or financial violence, neglect, social isolation, entrapment, degradation, detention, denial of health care, and forced sterilization and psychiatric treatment.
Women with disability face additional barriers to justice that can magnify the effects of abuse and violence. Firstly, it can be more difficult for women with disability to leave a violent or abusive situation. This could be due to being care-dependent on the abuser, not being able to take children with her, inaccessible support services and transportation to leave, being physically unable to implement an escape plan or the inability of a shelter or support service to adequately provide for her daily needs. Secondly, discrimination through the justice system means that women with disability may not be considered as reliable reporters or witnesses of crimes. In addition, prevailing social stereotypes may mean that women with disability can be dehumanised or excluded from the services.
It is important to also understand how violence and sexual abuse against women, including girls, can also be a cause of disability. For example, in the Kup region of Papua New Guinea, it has been reported that rape against young girls has caused serious injury and disability.
An important related issue magnifying the impact of sexual violence and abuse against women and girls with disability is the inaccessibility of sexual and reproductive health care. Ignorance and attitudes from both the community and individuals (including health care professionals) represent one of the main barriers for women accessing this type of health care. Society prejudices often assume women with disabilities are ‘asexual’ and are unable to manage their own sexuality and fertility. This stigma and discrimination then affects the access, level and availability of sexual and reproductive health services.
Current protections and solutions
A rights-based approach uses human rights principles and conventions as guiding frameworks, and views people with disabilities as rights-holders as opposed to passive beneficiaries. Like all people with disability, women and girls are protected under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD). The UNCPRD in Article 6 acknowledges the intersection of gender and disability, saying “state parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The convention also includes a specific prevision on the elimination of all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse, including their “gender-based aspects.”
While the human rights of women with disability are protected under the UNCRPD, implementation remains a significant barrier. Attitudes and social stigmas present the largest barrier yet to the fulfilment and enjoyment of all human rights for people with disability. Women and girls with a disability face a triple threat: being female, having a disability and being amongst the poorest of the poor.
A human rights approach to this issue will ensure that services including education and health are disability inclusive. This is done through a twin-track approach where disability is both mainstreamed throughout regular services as well as creating disability specific interventions that aim to increase the empowerment and participation of people with disabilities. A focus on disability inclusive development positively impacts those with disability as it helps work towards lowering the stigma and discrimination faced by people, including women.
The development of entire communities is dependent on the recognition and fulfilment of human rights of its entire people. Individuals and communities who perpetrate violence against women and girls with disability not only directly risk the health and lives of the women and girls within them, but also prevent the community from reaching its full potential.
 United Nations (2006) Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, Preamble, Retrieved from http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml
 United Kingdom Department for International Development (2000) Disability, Poverty and Development at http://www.handicap-international.fr/bibliographie-handicap/4PolitiqueHandicap/hand_pauvrete/DFID_disability.pdf
 Stephanie Ortoleva and Hope Lewis (August 2012) “Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities: An Overview of its Nature, Scope, Causes and Consequences,Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 104-2012, 16.
 United Nations Population Fund (2013) A Deeper Silence and Pacific Sisters with Disabilities, 18.
 Ortoleva and Lewis (2012) “Forgotten Sisters,” 14.
 United Nations Population Fund (2013) A Deeper Silence, 19.
 Pacific Sisters, 19.
 Pacific Sisters Report, 17.
 World Health Organisation and United Nations Population Fund Guidance Note, “Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health for Persons with Disabilities” 2009, 1.
 Spratt, A Deeper Silence, 18.
 Key conventions include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 UNCRPD, 2006, Article 6(1).
 CRPD, 2006, Article 16: Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse.