Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Long Walk to Inclusion

“The International Day of Persons with Disability” fell on December 3rd which, unfortunately, clashed with “Farmers Day” in Ghana. Subsequently, we celebrated in style today alongside about 350 people either with a disability or supporting someone else. Ghana has a long way to go to being "Inclusive". Today they went a little further, but it is a long journey.

We gathered outside the Wa School for the Blind at 8am where pupils were dancing to the beat of a few loud drums and 2 or 3 very battered trumpets. (The musicians managed to keep playing for 4 hours non-stop!)  Buses and tros drew up and people were handed their crutches and helped into wheelchairs, many of which were transported on the roofs. Organisers arrived with T shirts and these were grabbed frantically and put on over other clothing. Placards were distributed and we were ready to go
We had had a few hours notice of this parade and were concerned about the distance to be covered. When we set off in the wrong direction we realised we were taking the long way round! This was to be a 7 kilometre walk in 35C heat…….and we walked 1km to get to the start. I can hear you protesting, ”but you are able bodied!”  Precisely! Most of these walkers wore flip flops and many had deformed feet that no shoe could contain. They supported themselves on wooden crutches or a single stick, neither were the best size for them. The blind students, some albino, were led by the deaf in many cases, sharing skills. Grandparents were supported by small family members. Old and young were there all having a wonderful time.

The atmosphere was fantastic and extremely good humoured on behalf of the organisers, police and the public, in transport that was held up for ages whilst we occupied long stretches of road. Those who found walking less of a challenge danced to the beat of the music the whole way and turned the entire event into a carnival. Some were given a lift for part of the journey.

I have been humbled so many times in the last 10 months, but this was the best example. For once these people were having “their” day. Disability is often seen as a curse in Africa. Disabled children can be ostracised by their own families from birth. Difference is neither welcomed nor tolerated in many communities. The parade was to raise the awareness of the public to the strengths, challenges and determination of disabled citizens of all ages. There can have been no doubt, along the streets of Wa, that today’s revellers and stoic walkers were making a very strong case to be included in all communities and that their inclusion could only be regarded as a benefit to everyone. As one placard read, “See what a person with a disability can teach you.” They taught me a lot today and the world would be a poorer place without the example they set here, in a country where life is tough enough.

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