Drums rolling for abilities of children with disabilities!
By Anna D. Hoare
Belize District, Belize, 02 September 2013 - Colorful and festive clothes were flying last week in the hot but festive air at the Belmopan stadium at national band fest. Many bands comprised of children and youth from all over the country were sporting their latest and most elaborate uniforms accompanied by creative choreography. The competitive spirit, outstanding music and nervous laughters filled the atmosphere. Excited children and youth were participating to win and so was Stella Marris School Futuristic Marching Band originating from the school of children with disabilities who were competing for the fourth time. While they did not win, it did not matter for they performed to the best of their capacities and were treated as children with abilities. They had to work very hard at their presentation. What mattered most is that they too were included in the competition as part of society and not apart of it. They were treated equally to their counterparts from other schools. So they were joyful in celebrating their right to be included in such activities wishing to be included in all such activities despite their disabilities as inclusion benefits everyone.
Many challenges were faced by the group but they surpassed them all as was attested by their presence at this great competition. Stella Marris Principal, Mrs. Staine believes that more is needed to acknowledge that children with disabilities have great abilities too! They have the right to beat the drums, dance, be valued and be active participants in their society. Their right to participation and inclusion is paramount for their visibility.
As the crowd roared for their favorite band, the Stella Marris band was performing at their very best. Thousands of people were watching and parents were proud of their children. Their self esteem was up. They participated and did well despite some instances in which they struggled but that did not matter as some of their other peers were not coordinated either. How they revelled in the applause of the cheering audience!
No longer are they invisible. No longer are they made to feel that they are not humans with equal rights. Like this activity so is UNICEF along with its partners calling attention about the situation of children with disabilities in Belize to result in better programming and policies to ensure that their rights are fulfilled. For too long have they been invisible and neglected. Creating awareness about their equal rights to education, health participation, and protection is essential in a country where public transport still refuses to transport wheelchairs.
“It is doubly challenging for our children to participate in events like these as there is very little support as if though they should not participate. It dismays me to know that the rights of children with disabilities seem to not matter to our community as many of them are still hidden inside of their homes and are truly invisible children, isolated and ignored,” says Mrs. Dana Staine, principal of Stella Morris school. “Their participation in the Band Fest makes them very happy as they do not feel discriminated against at this event. They do recognize that despite the lack of services, neglect and abuse, shame and even guilt that most of their peers suffer ordinarily, at least the Band Fest provides them with an opportunity to show their abilities. While they usually feel the burden of discrimination by strangers, and sometimes even their parents, families and friends, at the Band Fest they are cheered on. How lucky they feel to be a part of Stella Marris School where they have opportunities like this albeit some of their peers are not as lucky as the school has limited spacing despite them having a right to quality education as the Situation Analysis of children with Disabilities 2013 points out. It further calls for policies and programmes to serve children with disabilities.
Furthering this cause is Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children, stellar advocate and wife of the Prime Minister of Belize. She has garnered tremendous support from Belizeans from all walks of life to raise significant funds to construct a rehabilitation centre that will open its doors shortly for children with disabilities. She continues to strongly advocate for the Belizean society to change attitudes towards children with disability. She affirms her commitment to help them realize their rights. She further reasserts that the level of access to services and support for children with disabilities ought to be at the same level than that for children without disabilities therefore she firmly believes that construction of the Rehabilitation Centre was essential for the provision of much needed services.
Making the invisible visible
UNICEF provided support for the evidence gathered in the Situation Analysis for Children with Disabilities and the Situation Analysis for Blind and Visually Impaired children. With the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the Government of Belize, a commitment to improving the lives of children with disabilities in Belize has been demonstrated. The data in these documents will help guide policies and programmes that need to be developed for children with disabilities nationally so that they not invisible anymore to policy makers and budget allocations.
Thanks to UNICEF and its partners such as Belize Council for the Visually Impaired (BCVI) CARE Belize, the Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children and National Resource Center for Inclusive Education (NaRCIE) and Special Olympics Belize, the situation of children with disabilities promotes the engagement of policy makers and communities but most importantly it engages children with disabilities and their families in decision-making processes, service design and quality assurance necessary for responses to address real needs and reflect children’s potential.
While some improvements can be seen, there are still major challenges to overcome, especially as it regards to the attitudes of the Belizean society. Behavioral and attitudinal changes must ensue especially among parents and caregivers who still hide, discriminate, and treat children with disabilities with greater inequality. The Situation Analysis provides recommendations for the State, NGOs, parents, teachers and caregivers to work together to improve the lives of children with disabilities with greater equity. More advocacy efforts are needed to bring about change in legislation that will protect the rights of children with disabilities, and establish and strengthen programmes and services to support them, their families in the community and at the national level. Better communication must be done to eliminate stereotypes, negative stigmas and change attitudes and behaviors towards disability and focus on their abilities. So let the drums roll for children with abilities!