It is always a privilege to be able to hear disabled people share their stories. Last week I heard young disabled Samoan women take, for some of them, their first steps towards empowerment. It was sometimes sad and always moving but we managed to have a few laughs together as well.
As I said in my last blog the stories are similar the world over, I can identify with the pain and marginalisation expressed in each personal story. I also said in my last blog the differences are usually local and cultural angles, and of degree.
These young women told of being cared for by their families, but not being allowed out on their own, and being denied opportunities, such as going to school or having a job and being able to contribute to their families in the ways they wanted. Some cried as they told of painful instances of being cruelly treated by others in their communities.
Happily not all stories were sad. One young woman said she was not ashamed of being disabled, and that she had been able to achieve success in her life, and we celebrated that with her.
They all had dreams, the same dreams you would expect many young women to have. They wanted to be able to work, to party, to have boyfriends and ultimately have a family of their own. One expressed a longing to go to school.
I have just returned from Samoa, where I attended two disability conferences, the first a women’s forum. Never having visited before, I found Samoa to be laid back, hot and very clean and tidy. I don’t think I saw a scrap of rubbish anywhere, and the beautiful gardens were lush and colourful. Coming in from the airport when I got home I thought Wellington looked messy by comparison.
One meeting was held in one of the beautiful open fales, which allowed the air to circulate and a fairly comfortable temperature, while the other was held in a rather inadequately air-conditioned room.
Physical access in Samoa is minimal, as there are few footpaths and most buildings especially the churches I saw had lots of steps. There is still much to do also in terms of education, and support services. Sadly disabled people seem to be the last in line when it comes to inclusion in mainstream development aid, but I am pleased to see that NZAID has a good reputation and is funding small practical grassroots projects to help disabled people’s organisations.
Despite the, heat, the long hours of work, the usual tummy troubles, and almost being caught up in a near riot between warring schools, (over rugby) it was a great trip. We were there to help build capacity in Pacific disability organisations. We met some stunning people, and I hope we were of use to them.