Disabled young people have it pretty rough in The Gambia. Having said that, during this, Disability Africa's first visit, I met plenty of Gambian people who would have it otherwise. We went to the large village of Gunjur (about an hour's drive south of the capital Banjul) with our UK partners the Marlborough Brandt Group to gain a sense of existing services and provision for disabled young people in and around Gunjur and to meet as many key providers, and stakeholders (including disabled young people and their families) as we could in the seven days we had available.
It is true all over the world, that the major obstacle to young disabled people reaching their full potential is what goes on in the minds of the non-disabled. In other words; disability is not so much the result of a person's impairment, as what the majority of people think about people with impairments.
The following short list which we routinely encounter seriously hinders the life-chances of disabled people:
- Social isolation – little support from neighbours or other family members
- Ignorance of appropriate interventions
- Demeaning and ridiculing behaviour
- Exclusion from education
- Inadequate development of health and other services
- Perceptions of being un-valued and valueless
- Subject to negative traditional beliefs - both the child and the family
- “Invisible children”; at almost every meeting we were told that disabled children are often hidden.
- No political will or resources allocated to service development
Stigma, shame and disgrace are possibly the most serious influences affecting the lives of disabled young people in Gunjur. It is ironic that, even today, if you ask someone what we need to do for disabled people the answer almost invariably revolves around some 'fix' for a person's impairment and yet even a brief glance at the above list will demonstrate that the priority is to fix us far more than the disabled child!
And yet there is real hope in Gunjur. In just seven days we were able to meet many people who are keen to improve the lives of disabled young people in their community; including the staff of TARUD pre-school who routinely include young disabled people.
Disability Africa is now working with TARUD (Trust Agency for Rural Development) in the Gambia to develop an “Inclusion Action Plan” for Gunjur. We propose to:
Draft a “Gunjur Charter for Inclusion” to be ratified by the Community Leaders and adopted by the community of Gunjur.
Change attitudes towards disabled young people through awareness raising activities
Improve local health and education services
Improve community support for disabled young people and their families There was a strong positive reaction to the suggestion that mothers of disabled children need to be freed from caring responsibilities to support each other and work on their crops etc. whilst their disabled children are being cared for. It was suggested that a Daycare/resource Centre in the community run by TARUD might be useful. Disability Africa will actively pursue this.
We will return to Gunjur in early 2012.
You can read the full report on our visit to The Gambia here: Gunjur Report 2011