It has been a while since my last post. It isn’t due to having nothing to report, it’s the complete opposite. I have been doing more stuff than I ever expected to be doing simultaneously. By the end of the day, all I want to do is relax and read Mistborn (this is my first and only public endorsement of a book series). In addition, here are a few quick updates:
Pogues now has a new best friend/adopted brother. Timing was strange on it because one night Make told me Pogues needs a dog friend because she is lonely and causing trouble; make said she was going to see if anyone in the community had a puppy they didn’t want. I woke up the next morning and on my porch was this adorable little fella who came to the homestead on his own and hasn’t left. Pogues and Rexy get along so well and are great hiking buddies for me.
It’s officially avocado season! They grow in my community and people give them away but even in the stores you can buy them for 50 cents (USD) and they are probably twice the size of the ones you get in the US.
Make and I made another new garden a few months ago and it is doing great! We have more lettuce than we know what to do with it, so we are selling it and saving that money to donate to a community project I will talk about in this blog.
That’s a quick summary of me the last couple months. Now on to the actual blog discussion…DISABILITIES!
Before starting my life as a PCV, almost a year ago, I dreamt of being able to apply my passion of working with children with special needs to my service. As of recently, almost everything I am doing regularly revolves around disabilities. And I couldn’t be happier. There are three different projects I am currently working on that focus on disabilities.
To understand the importance of why disability education is so critical in this country, you need to understand where the country currently is regarding disabilities culturally. In general, disabilities aren’t recognized beyond physical, hearing, or visual disabilities. When you ask someone what pes of disabilities people have those are the ones they think of, it makes sense A child who has autism might be simply considered to be a trouble-making child, some children might just be considered dumb. A big part is a lack of education about disabilities in general.
Another major problem here is the lack of early identification of disabilities. As I have found to be true with most of the families I have visited who have a child with a disability, these children didn’t see a doctor until they were over ten. Thus, early identification and intervention is basically non-existent especially in the rural communities. This clearly has a profound impact on intervening to reduce the impact of having a disability.
Culturally, a child with a disability in Swaziland is often thought to be caused by a witch who cursed the family. This, as well as many other aspects, has led to a culture who hides those with disabilities…they don’t want people to see the challenges the family faces or that they have a “bewitched child.” These children often spend their entire day inside, never to interact with other children, go to school, or to be seen by the community. That’s not to say that this is true for all families with a child with a disability, many of the families I have met have done all they know to make their children with a disability part of the family. Even with these families though, there is a lack of knowledge on disabilities, a lack of family support for both the child and for those who take care of these children, and a lack of support at the community level for these children and their families.
That’s what we are up against. Here is what I’ve been keeping busy doing…
Children with Special Needs Project
The one I’m most excited about has me working directly with children with special needs and their families in my community. I’m working collaboratively with a local NGO called Vusomnotfo. It is a pilot project, one of the – if not the – first of its kind in Swaziland…and somehow the stars aligned that I am in the right place at the right time. It is happening the same time that I’m in Swaziland and is happening in the same small community in which I live although I had a bit of influence on it happening in my community and not another community. This project is Vusomnotfo’s first project to specifically target children with disabilities and their support network (caregivers and neighbors). In addition to Vusomnotfo, this project is being done with two South African NGOs based in Cape Town, Uhambo and Shonaquip. I strongly suggest you read about these three organizations because they are all spectacular in their own way and are doing amazing things in Africa and even around the World. I’m attaching a link to their websites below. Next week I will be travelling to Cape Town (woot!) with Vusomnotfo staff to meet Uhambo and Shonaquip. We will have a five-day training on these organizations’ practices and bringing those practices with us to implement in Ludzibini with these children with disabilities.
For this project, we are going to be having week-long workshops for caregivers of children with special needs on early childhood development and another workshop specifically on disabilities. Then, very similar to the US based Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), with input from caregivers and the children, I will be writing a Individualized Learning Plan for each child and their family. This plan will be a strategy for helping these children reach their next stage of learning and development, trying to help the child reach his/her maximum potential and help the families to realize the child’s potential. I will be working with each of these families to observe and give input along the way to see how this plan is doing. At the end of the year we will look to see what progress has been made with these children and their families.
In addition to helping the child directly, this project puts a lot of emphasis on helping the caregivers of these children. We are going to be working with these caregivers and people they turn to for help (neighbors and family members) to ensure they are taking care of themselves. Part of it is simply by bringing these caregivers together to create a support group for these caregivers to meet and discuss their challenges and successes amongst others who can relate with each other.
Since beginning the very early stages of this project I have already loved it because it has had me start to regularly visit these children, most of whom have likely never had a personal visitor personally come to see them at home. These families know that I am at their homestead to visit “my friend _______,” and it is always the child’s name. These families are seeing already that I embrace these children, and love interacting with the child; it is something they haven’t experienced before and certainly wouldn’t expect to see from “the busy white guy who is always on the go.” Instead of spending the whole time on the homestead like the child is accustomed to, I try to take the children out of the homestead to go for a walk, even if it requires pushing a wheelchair through sand.
This project has my name written all over it.
Building a House for a Lady Physically Disabled
The other community based disability project I’m working on one I’m leading with my Make (mother). Make is a very well-respected member of our community and has the ability make people listen when she talks. The two of us have launched a community mobilization effort to have community members support and engage in a project of building a house for a physically disabled lady of our community. Here’s the story on how this started. I have spent a lot of time going around the community to meet those with disabilities, both young and old. One of those community members is a middle-aged lady who is physically disabled resulting in being in a wheelchair permanently. She is an orphan and has no home of her own. She goes between living at various neighbor houses (none being handicapped accessible). As she has no family and is unable to work, she has no home. The community leaders have given her a piece of property that adjacent to the community’s main road, making it much easier for her to get places opposed to her current 1/3 mile she travels on a sandy and hilly path to get home. Only problem is she has no money to build a house on the property.
For too many years, Swazis have been trained to go to international organizations to solve their problems. This isn’t the fault of the Swazis in my opinion; organizations like the Red Cross, USAID, UNICEF, the EU, even the Peace Corps for a long time have just been a place that hands out freely not trying to help these people take control of their own life. I see this dependency every day when a child sees a white guy and instantly asks for money, sweets, or food. This isn’t the way forward for international aid, these organizations are running out of money and have learned their mistakes that simply giving is not doing anything but furthering dependency. I have not once given a person money, food, or sweets since I arrived and have no intention of starting. This project is to help people recognize they don’t need to depend on international aid. Make and I have held meetings throughout the community to talk to community members about the state of international aid and the implications this has on Swaziland and our community. Many people have told me “go talk to the Red Cross to see if they will build the house.” I have said “no, this needs to be done at the community level.” Ludzibini needs to mobilize now – to take charge of their challenges – through supporting each of our community members in any way they can. This is a project hoping to show the community members just how strong we are together. UBUNTU.
We as a community are building a house for a disabled lady using all donated materials and donated labor. We are coming together to support one of the most disadvantaged person in the community, raising awareness of disabilities, and showing the community they are strong even without international aid. (Insert good feels). Over the last couple weeks, 13 men and teenage boys have been working for free to collect donated building material from throughout the community and have begun building this house. Will this house be completely finished with just local contributions? I don’t know but I hope. If it isn’t, this project has at the very least shown initiative and compassion and makes me so thrilled to call Ludzibini my home.
I will keep you posted on these projects as they progress.
Vusomnotfo – https://www.globalgiving.org/donate/7170/vusumnotfo/
Uhambo SA – http://uhambofoundation.org.za/
Shonaquip – http://shonaquip.worldwidecreative.co.za/