Thursday, September 25, 2008

Disability organization tries to make a difference in Tanzania

A feature from The Daily News in Tanzania. The tricycle in the picture was made by the Organisation of People with Disabilities in Zanzibar (UWZ) to enable people with disabilities to get around more easily.

Generally speaking disabled people in the country, including Zanzibar are disadvantaged in many ways and disability is by no stretch of the imagination considered a priority. Therefore, from its beginning, the sole aim of the Organisation of People with Disabilities in Zanzibar (UWZ) was to mobilise all disabled people.

The task ahead of them was to bring all those who come under this banner together and form a unified voice, where they could advocate for their rights and see that they were also getting recognition, their basic human rights in the society and all the opportunities that other citizens were getting.

Before the establishment of this organisation, People With Disabilities (PWD’s) were just scattered and although they have rights, they did not know how to get them. Then there was the UWZ with the aim to unify the voice of all disabled people on the islands. Although it became officially established in 1995 the organisation had started to operate since 1981, during the International Year of Disabled People.

Before this there was no such group like it working on the Spice Iles for the rights of disabled people there. Now at 23 years old UWZ is the oldest NGO in Zanzibar, which came after the 1964 revolution.

With regards to this situation the ‘Daily News’ visited UWZ offices in Stone Town on the Spice Iles and had an audience with its Executive Director, Khalfan H. Khalfan. He had much to say concerning the plight of PWD’s and how the organisation had been working on their behalf. While Khalfan, who started there as a founder member, over the period he has been chairman for three terms.

He said, “I think we can see the result of the work; for example the negative attitude that was prevailing in the society and that of the Government has drastically reduced.”

This situation has improved some, for now, according to him; many people don’t consider disability as a charity but as a right. Physically disabled people themselves also have come out of that kind of attitude of feeling ashamed of their situation.

The Government has also been able to develop an adopted policy, in 2004, on disability in Zanzibar and in 2006 they adopted legislation, which is Act No 9 of 2006 on the rights and opportunities of PWD’s.

These actions, Khalfan, who had given the leadership up but was recommended should be on the management side to lead the work of the organisation, so has been the Executive Director from the year 2000, calls “very important instruments.”

He said if this is properly used it will liberate disabled people from the situation they are in so that they can enjoy all the basic human rights in the society.

Recently, the UWZ have revised their membership data-base and now say that the figures are standing at 4000, with a staff of 29 and about 120 volunteers, who have taken on the challenge with confidence of success. Their purpose is to work with physically disabled people, those with visual impairment, also the deaf and others with multiple disabilities, like deaf-blind and yet still others such as epileptics.

One of the services members have access to is what is called the Membership
Development and Training programme. It works on building the capacity of members to fully understand who they are, what are their rights and how and where to get them? There is also the provision of business training provided, to help members’ set-up their own ventures.

Recently they have been working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on a particular programme called Women with Disabilities Entrepreneurship. The performance to date Khalfan says is very much satisfactory.

According to the Executive Director, recently the UWZ developed a Five Year Strategic Plan, which is rooted on a rights-based approach. This covers the period from 2008 to 2012. Their vision is to have a society in which PWD’s have equal rights, opportunities, respect and dignity.

To achieve this he says their mission is, “To empower people’s abilities through advocacy, awareness raising and capacity building, leading to an inclusive society.”

Unfortunately, according to him there has been very little change over the last ten years in the area of making public buildings, or private ones for public use, accessible to PWD’s. He gave the example of a person with physical disability, who uses a wheelchair being invited to a meeting only to find on reaching that the place is not accessible because of the lack of a proper ramp for their wheelchair to pass on.

Similarly, a deaf person would be invited to a meeting but they reach there to find that there are no provisions, like the availability of brail, present. Therefore, they cannot participate in the proceedings. They are hoping that slowly, maybe in the first five years of this Strategic Plan some visible changes will be seen taking place.

The reason he feels such action is taking so long before being put into practice is due to the fact that PWD’s are not involved in the development of the building codes. Therefore, if a contractor has been given a particular construction work to do they would not be able to think of the universal use of that particular building or structure being developed.

Another reason is attitude, whereby a contract is given out without prior stipulations being made regarding certain specifications.

One particular case where the correct practice can be seen is in the new Ministry of Education building in Zanzibar, where at least 40 per cent of the building is accessible to PWD’s. Although their jurisdiction covers basically the islands of Unguja and Pemba, the UWZ do have a kind of relationship with an umbrella organisation on the Mainland called the Association of People with Disabilities Tanzania (Shivywata), which is based in Dar es Salaam.

Recently the two bodies have developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
between them, which is exploring various wings where they can collaborate or work together. Also, earlier this year UWZ signed another MoU with the Human Rights Commission and Good Governance.

Khlafan said that their greatest hope is that PWD’s in the country should not see themselves as lost, with no one for them because the situation now is very different, as was the case before and it has reached the stage now where there is much hope for them taking their rightful roles in society.

The fact that Executive Director has been disabled from his first year at secondary school, as the result of a polio attack, means he is fully acquainted with the kind of struggle those with such conditions have to endure.

Ironically, he said this puts him in an advantageous position to work on behalf of physical disabled people.

In fact he maintains, “If I were not a disabled person, definitely I feel I wouldn’t be sitting in an organisation of disabled people because the way things are such an organisation has to be run by disabled people. I could have another role but maybe not this particular one.”

When asked to give some examples of the advantages of things being this way he responded, “It’s the wearer of the shoes who knows where it pinches. We don’t feel comfortable that we should be represented by the people but we don’t mean to say that we don’t work with people who are not disabled because we do.”

He states that at least two thirds of the leaders have to be disabled but we can accommodate other people. In UWZ there are some employees who are not disabled but at leadership level all are physically disabled. If PWD’s were not taking-up such positions in groups to stand up for their rights, then they would be in a much worse position.