The Anglican Alliance regional consultation in Africa in April 2011 had identified disability as a priority issue, with a particular concern for refugees with disabilities, said Dr Janice Proud, Anglican Alliance Relief and Programmes Manager. A specialized resource, “A better life together: faith communities and people with disabilities” was produced in 2014.
The churches were well placed to change attitudes and make a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities [PWD] and their families through Church Community Mobilisation [CCM] programmes and other development work, Janice said.
But practitioners also realized that to have real impact, the message of disability inclusion needed to be firmly embedded in the mainstream development activities of the churches.
“The Church has played a big role developing the world and also serving the most vulnerable. However there are gaps when you look at the way people with disabilities [PWD] have been handled,” noted Mathilde Umuraza, programme manager with UPHLS, a Rwandan umbrella organisation of disability organisations, and focal person for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network of the World Council of Churches.
The skills-sharing workshop in Kigali in February 2016 aimed to bridge this gap by taking disability sensitisation and inclusion into the churches’ core development work.
The first step was to learn more about disability and how a person’s physical, social and attitudinal environment can either hinder or facilitate daily functioning.
Overall 15% of the global population live with a disability, but this figure hides a disparate reality: the effect of poverty. A staggering 80% of people living with a disability live in developing countries, where accessing good nutrition and healthcare is often a struggle.
“Poverty increases the risk of disability and disability increases the risk of poverty. People with disabilities make up 20% of the poorest of the poor,” noted Janice.
More than 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. Only 1% of women with disabilities are literate.
A Bible study on God’s desire for everyone to live life to the full (John 10:10) by the Revd Francis Karemera of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR) underlined the fact that people with disabilities have dreams, gifts, cares and needs, just like everyone else.
The “Understanding disability and vulnerability” activity from Tearfund’s Reveal Toolkit allowed participants to visualise the impact of disability on people’s lives and share experiences working with the most vulnerable, including PWD.
The participants realized that CCM is transforming lives in East and Central Africa, but it wasn’t as inclusive as they previously thought.
“This week the issue of inclusion has come out so vividly. It is something that we have talked about before, but then it doesn’t happen, because actually the churches are quite inconvenient to come to for PWD. … It was very eye opening,” said Sarah Kasule, Mothers’ Union Provincial Coordinator for the Church of the Province of Uganda.
The workshop participants identified gaps in their materials and practise – such as meeting places not being accessible, not specifically inviting PWD to participate, not providing inclusive materials, or not highlighting PWD in baseline data collection – that exclude people with disabilities from grassroots CCM activities.
The Church inclusive
And the participants registered the need for a change in attitude – the need first to view PWD as full members in the life of the community in order for inclusion to be possible.
“Each of us is different; we are all special, valued, loved and chosen by God. As church and communities we can all have a better life together if everyone is enabled to play their full part in God’s work here on earth,” Janice said.
The Church could play a key role to ensure that everyone, including people with disabilities, is treated with respect, able to participate fully in family and community activities and decision making, she added. This begins by talking with and listening to people with disabilities.
“When we start to envision the Church, [whom] do we invite? Is there anyone with disabilities there? Do we care that they have not come, that they are not included?” Sarah asked.
“Even when describing the community we don’t think about people with disabilities, who they are, where they live. But I will do now,” she vowed.
“[There are] things that will help us look … through an inclusion lens. … [W]e might identify that there are PWDs and find that they are not included, that we are missing out on their skills, we don’t benefit as they are not included, and they don’t feel valued.”
Making CCM inclusive
A Bible study on how Jesus challenged stigma, discrimination and denial (John 8:1-11) provided inspiration for the participants to plan in detail how to integrate disability sensitivity and inclusion into each of the five stages of CCM work in the future.
“Envisioning the Church, envisioning the community, dreaming dreams and planning for action, taking action and evaluation – the aim is to transform every CCM stage to be inclusive,” said June Nderitu, Anglican Alliance Africa Facilitator.
“[I’m] grateful that the Church is now taking time to think about people with disabilities especially through CCM,” affirmed the Revd Denys Arinitwe, an Anglican pastor in eastern Rwanda, who has a physical disability that restricts his ability to walk.
CCM country teams are now looking to ensure that this commitment is carried out at the national level, June reported. A key step will be for each team to meet with their national CCM platform.
The Anglican Alliance and Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) would be supporting the churches as they incorporate disability sensitivity and inclusion into their ongoing activities in the Africa region, June said.
Sharing experience widely
This skills-sharing workshop is an example of the Anglican Alliance’s role in bringing people together around a particular issue to tell about their experiences and plan future action, Janice noted. Learning from the Kigali workshop has already been passed on to other CCM partners with an interest in disability.
She hopes that material from the workshop might contribute to the development of a CCM resource on disability sensitivity and inclusion, similar to the Umoja grassroots development supplementary guide, “HIV and your community”.
“Mathilde rightly said, ‘The Church will never be a witness of the love of Christ if [we] don’t reach every person in his or her diversity. That love needs to reach the most vulnerable, the most complex and diverse people, including people with disabilities.’ The Anglican Alliance will continue to support the Communion in building communities that include the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” Janice said.
Photos, top to bottom of page: Using drama to share about discrimination and abuse that PWD face, Kinama Church, Burundi. Disability can lead to isolation, says the daughter of this woman from Zambia who has difficulty walking. Kigali skills-sharing workshop participants. Credits: Janice Proud/Anglican Alliance