This week I wish to introduce one Zambian disability advocate; Noah Manda.
I met disabled Zambian advocate Noah Manda at an event titled “Challenges of Living with a Disability in Africa: Decent work for PWD,” organised by The ILO-Irish Aid Partnership Programme, a group highlighting and creating discourse on African issues from Moving towards disability inclusion perspective. He spoke about the challenges of being a Person(s) with Disabilities (PWD). Below are excerpts.
Who is Noah Manda?
I was born in the late sixties in Zambia when polio was prevalent. The situation was further exacerbated by road traffic accident.
In 1970, at three years old, I contracted polio, suffered the resultant paralysis of my right leg and became elbow clutches -dependent PWD.
After years of treatment, I began my education late at 12 years old, because there were few nursery schools that would accept young PWD.
I later attended a special needs school for young PWD for my primary education.
Studying in a specialised school was better because the physical environment was more accessible, and I didn’t receive questions from fellow students, as we were all PWD.
Receiving a secondary and college education was very challenging, as I had to cope with a very disability-unfriendly environment.
I experienced disability discrimination, including almost losing a term of high school because school wasn’t interested in admitting a PWD with better grades than many of their students.
Access to school facilities has always been difficult and sometimes impossible for me because most schools don’t have handicap-accessible amenities, including toilets. I’d have to restrain myself for the day.
Classrooms, libraries and dormitories weren’t any better. I cannot measure the impact such situations like writing exams without being given extra time, and being lifted on steps by kind but untrained people and the associated injury risks, have had on my academic grades.
The inconveniences caused by very limited accommodation of PWD questions the saying, “Disability is not inability,” because they directly impact one’s grades, which are subsequently used to measure one’s intellectual abilities.
Being a PWD and disability rights advocate has exposed me to numerous unchallenged human rights violations PWD endure.
Our society excludes and construes PWD in a demeaning way. Changes are occurring to positively impact African PWD – they have allowed few PWD like me to acquire an education and assume leadership positions – but improving the lives of PWD at the family, society, state and national levels is still needed.
My parents and Norwegian Zambia embassy partially sponsored and facilitated my education up until high school.
I then established a tuition centre for junior grades in order to raise money to take me to college where I received a technical skill in electronics and Celtel Zambia through the project Touching Lives, a corporate social responsibility project bought me electronic tool box to set-up a television (TV) and Radio Workshop repair.
This shows the relevance of coordinated efforts among different actors, which, if adopted by all sectors, including the employment and health sectors, will lead to more independence and positive societal impact for PWD.
The realities of PWD in Africa
As an Elder in my church, Security staff employee at G4S Zambia and a technician in electronics in Zambia, I am an exception.
In Africa, disabilities are often associated with evil spirits, curses and punishment for ancestral wrong doings.
There’s little understanding that PWD are human beings, equal to everyone else and entitled to the same rights, privileges and opportunities.
PWD are often totally dependent on others who often mistreat them, with no means to effectively manage their disability and related needs, such as with mobility devices, medication and regular medical treatment.
Many PWD have no capacity to decide their fate and are abandoned in the rural areas and stay poor, helpless, neglected, and betrayed by family and community members.
Generally, PWD in Africa lack access to public and government facilities, including health centers, schools, and legal centers like police stations and courts.
Many are left homeless, live on the streets where they are more vulnerable, and endure unwanted conflicts and assaults.
Female PWD also endure sexual exploitation. Due to rape and defilement, many have contacted HIV/AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies have resulted.
The additional burden of raising fatherless children alone increases their difficulties.
Many are unemployed because they are uneducated and vocationally unskilled.
Many with employment opportunities are destined for menial jobs.
This partly explains the large numbers of disabled beggars on the streets of many African countries’ capital cities.
Current African disability trends
Fortunately, international civil society organisations have prioritized PWD, targeting the issue either directly or indirectly in African programs they support.
The current trend is associations and partnership formation, such as disabled-persons organisations, community-based organisations, and international partnerships with donors, the community and advocacy-based agencies.
The non-profit organisation at which I’m the executive director, Christian Action, Research and Education on Disability(CAREDISA Media Resources received financial and technical support in its disability and media advocacy project to PWD in Zambia from different actors such as Abilis Foundation from Finland and Celtel Zambia then.
Legislative and disability policy measures are underway. Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi have either enacted laws on disability or restructured their domestic laws to reflect disability needs.
Numerous policies and strategies have been generated to guide disability work in several African countries.
Many have included and captured disability performance data for Millennium Development Goals, and to report to groups including human rights committees.
International conventions like the UN Convention on the Rights of PWD (UNCRPD) have guided laws on disabilities in countries like Zambia and Malawi.
Much still needs to be done to implement and fine-tune these laws to reflect the authors’ real intentions, but there’s now a ray of hope.
The CRPD has led to the creation of numerous disability rights agencies sponsoring African disability work, including Disability Rights Fund, Open Society Institute’s Disability Rights Initiative, and International Disability Alliance’s CRPD Forum, all of which are targeting effective and full implementation of rights enhancement for PWD worldwide, based on the UNCRPD, with some offering technical support.
There are now enhanced conceptualisation of disabilities from a human-rights perspective, and national human-rights commissions have established units on disabilities in South Africa and Uganda.
On the horizon
CAREDISA, one of the first disability concern media nonprofit organisations providing positive portrayal for Zambian PWD, is dealing with employment, accessibility, discrimination, thus (church and disability) and education is our preference.
We also conduct public awareness campaigns on the UN Convention on the Rights of PWD, which Zambia signed and ratified.
African countries must enact, repeal, amend, revise and implement disability laws.
They should also design workable regulations and guiding policies, utilising the CRPD model. Many countries have no definition or understanding of disabilities.
Disability concerns are often sidelined during policy making. Consequently, the resultant service delivered is inadequate or inappropriate. Specialised policies must be generated and introduced in international environments for the policies to be effected.
In Zambia there is a National Policy on Disability and the PWD Act # 6 0f 2012 but implementation is challenging.
Affirmative action is also required by law, and statutes should be enacted for special groups and PWD.
The state should lead in employing PWD, and organisations that employ significant numbers of employees should be required to hire members of special groups.
PWD are often isolated, and conditioned to accept and not question anything, even things done to them.
Therefore, they must be empowered and encouraged to speak up for themselves and speak out against negative occurrences.
For example, a woman PWD told me, “There’s a man who comes and rapes me daily, but who can I tell?”The man has since been arrested.
This happens because often PWD are not considered human, so crimes against them are ignored by law enforcement.
Crimes against PWD should be challenged, and their inclusion in mainstream society should be made essential.
Also, education and vocational skills training should be available to enable PWD become independent, self-sustaining and productive members of society.
If people want to help, they can promote, protect and respect the rights of PWD, and teach future generations to ensure continuity. Everyone can make contributions towards the fulfillment of the rights of PWD.