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Malawian children call upon society to see their abilities

UNICEF Malawi/2013/Roelandt
© UNICEF Malawi/2013/Roelandt
18 yr old Mercy Phiri presents alongside fellow MC Mr Chikondi Chimala at the launch of the State of the World's Children 2013.

Lilongwe – 6 June 2013. ‘Disability is not inability’ chanted 18 year old Mercy Phiri, one of the co-presenters of the Malawi launch of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report 2013. Mercy, who is blind, was one of the stars of the show, stirring the attendant crowd, and ensuring audience participation between the speeches. She even upstaged the very experienced Mr Chikondi Chimala from the Ministry of Information who was her fellow MC. 

If there is one thing that every person will remember from the launch, which was combined with Malawi’s Situation Analysis of Children with Disabilities, it is that discrimination of these children begins and ends with the wider community who continue to see the disability before they see the child. 

Guest of honour at the event was Minister for Disability and Elderly Affairs, Mrs. Reene Kachere (MP) who took time to tour the exhibitions and displays from different organisations including the Malawi Human Rights Commission and PODCAM (Parents of Children with Disabilities in Malawi).

During the launch she appealed to all stakeholders to:
‘…study the report and recommendations and come up with appropriate programmes that will promote the rights of children with disabilities.’

Both the global and Malawi reports stressed the twin challenges of lack of data and detailed information on the situation of these children, and the huge stigma they suffer from their peers, community members and sometimes even their families. The Malawi report commended the country’s strong policy framework for disability, and also the inclusive education system but also stressed the limited number of special education teachers as well as little access to basic health services and vulnerability to abuse.

Around half of the assembled audience were children, many of them with different abilities. Eighteen year old Chiyanjano Maseleka, from Lilongwe Girls Secondary School, gave a passionate speech on her experiences, reading her speech in braille. 

“Most of us are discriminated against in schools and work places. Our fellow learners segregate us and fail to perform school activities with us. Even teachers sometimes are not willing to assist us as classes are large and they feel they cannot waste their time on us.”, she said. “Furthermore, children with disabilities are overprotected, in a way that we are closed indoors making us not known at the same time we are denied the right to interact with our peers.”

UNICEF Malawi/2013/Roelandt
© UNICEF Malawi/2013/Roelandt
The students with disabilities, from Lilongwe Girls Secondary School sing a traditional song at the Malawi launch of SOWC 2013.

She received rapturous applause, as did UNICEF Representative Mr Mahimbo Mdoe, when he revealed that he too was a child with a disability:
“At the age of 8 I was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, that affected my ability to learn in the classroom. Without the support of family, special educators and caregivers around me, who helped me to believe in myself, I would not be standing on this stage today’ said Mr Mdoe, to congratulatory cheers.

Whilst the content of the day was serious, and some of the information shared troubling, the atmosphere was one of celebration, with a focus on the amazing abilities of the many young people gathered. Performances of drama and song were moving and the Malawi Scouts Association kept the energy up throughout.

After a day of hearing the children talk about their lives, give insightful speeches and sing beautiful songs, it was more than clear that society should see the abilities of all children. Because, as Chiyanjano and the other children firmly stated, disability is not inability.





From Exclusion to Inclusion: Promoting the Rights of Children with Disabilities

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