Opening the world to disabled people
29 July 2013 - Just a few years ago, few people in Zimbabwe were aware of the challenges facing people with disabilities and their families. Fearful of social stigma, many parents of disabled children for example avoided sending them to school for fear they would be mistreated and stigmatised.
Recognizing the need for greater awareness on the rights of children with disabilities estimated to number 600 000 in Zimbabwe – UNICEF and the Office of the President and Cabinet recently held an inaugural National Disability Expo in Harare.
The three day expo held under the theme “Empowering and Mobilising Society to Create Sustainable Livelihoods for People with Disability” brought more than 50 organisations from around the country and the general public to begin to fight discrimination and enhance awareness of disability among the general public, decision-makers and those who provide essential services for people with disabilities.
During a plenary discussion hosted by UNICEF on the second day of the expo, some of the people who attended began discussing their responsibilities as members of various communities in order to help provide care for disabled people. The Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health for instance, decided to take immediate action — by initiating a campaign to raise funds for disabled children living in rural Zimbabwe.
As part of the campaign, they organized cultural performances during the expo that stressed the need for acceptance and support for people with disabilities.
The success of the expo was significant because it signalled the first time disability is making it onto the public sphere breaking down the walls that has kept those living with disabilities in a cocoon of silence.
The Special Disability Advisor in the Office of the President and Cabinet Retired Brigadier-General Felix Muchemwa outlined the importance that the expo was for all and sundry and emphasised the need for continued support from all sectors.
“Just a few years ago, we did not have so many people coming together to talk about disabilities,” he said. “Now, we are more confident in supporting people with disabilities ... our commitment to caring for them must never stop.”