NGOs fight entrenched stigma against people with disabilities in Biharamulo

Disability is not inability’. This is a brainy phrase that normally encourages persons with disabilities to realize that their condition cannot make them fail to attain  their ambitions.

The quotation also aims to change the perception of people who are not disabled to see persons with disabilities as fellow human beings who can realize life goals  just like other people. Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, during a meeting in 2013, said: “Disability is part of the human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life.”

According to the former UN secretary general, there were more than a billion people with disabilities around the world, this being around 15 per cent of the global population at that time.

Figures on the total number of people with disabilities in Tanzania are  not updated  due to the fact that the 2012 Population and Housing Census (PHC) did not give include data on the number of people with disabilities in Tanzania. However, until mid-2010, Tanzania was estimated to have 3.7 million people with disabilities.

The 2012 national census showed that Tanzania had a total population of 44, 928,923, with 43, 625,354 being on Tanzania Mainland and 1,303,569 in Zanzibar. The male population constituted 21,869,990 people as the female population amounted to 23, 058,933.

Much as figures related to  people with disability in Tanzania are important, the rights and responsibilities of this group are even more crucial, given the appalling level of stigmatization which is prevalent in  certain communities. 

In Biharamulo District, Kagera Region, a non-governmental organization known as The Registered Trustee of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara, through the  financial sponsorship  of The Foundation for Civil Society, is sensitizing  people with disabilities, decision makers and government leaders  on the rights and responsibilities of the marginalized group.  

The organization has chosen to carry out the task after realizing that stigmatization against people with disabilities in Biharamulo District  is so rampant to the extent that individuals are identified  by their form of disability rather than  their actual names.

The sensitization work was preceded by a baseline survey which aimed at identifying all people with disabilities in the whole district of Biharamulo, prior to the gathering of thegroup of stakeholders   who would attend sensitization seminars. The district consists of 17 wards holding 79 villages. So far, sensitization campaign has taken place in nine wards during  the first quarter of project implementation period.

Father Honoratus Ndaulla, Project Coordinator of Trustee, said some politicians had joined local government executives in attending the sensitization seminars. The participants included the chairman of Biharamulo District Council, the local legislator, district executive directors well as local councilors.

According to Fr. Ndaulla, it was necessary to involve both the politicians and government executives simply because they were the ones charged with the responsibility of serving people with disabilities in their areas of jurisdiction.

He said during the survey, they noted the existence of a discriminative and non-caring attitude of community members towards people with disabilities, prompting Trustee to intervene as a way of reversing the trend.

Giving an example, Ndaulla observed that people with physical disability in Biharamulo District were not taken into account by the local and central governments when designing the infrastructure of public buildings. “Go to the courts, hospitals, schools, police stations and other government buildings. People with physical disabilities encounter serious trouble in accessing them,” he said.

He added: “Government officials have the responsibility of ensuring that people with disabilities get fair and at times special treatment in service delivery. That’s what we also tell them whenever we meet at the workshops that we usually organise.”

Testimonies from people with disabilities

Some people with disabilities also testified about the support they had received from the organization.  Paul Makene, a person with physical disabilities, recalled the benefits of the Trustee project, saying that for years,the disabled people in Biharamulo had faced problems that  required the attention of district leaders, yet they  always failed to secure the platform to air their grievances.

He said for people with disabilities, face to face meetings with the district executive director, members from the office of district commissioner, the local legislator as well as their councilors, availed them the opportunity to present their cases. Giving an example, Makene said: “Some government buildings in Biharamulo District are not user-friendly for people with physical disabilities such as myself. However, we are happier today because government officials are making efforts to rectify such anomalies.”

Makene, who once attempted to vie for the post of local government leader, said his opponents had capitalized on his physical disability by waging a campaign that aimed  towards creating  a picture to the voters that projected training for  the disabled people could not deliver anything. ( Disability is inability!).

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