Sparking disability inclusion through empowerment   – Capital Radio Malawi
17 July, 2024

Sparking disability inclusion through empowerment  

Monica and her Mother Nabanda at their house

When Tilile Nabanda of Mponda Village in Traditional Authority Kaomba in Kasungu got pregnant in 1976, she did not think about the possibility that she would give birth to a child with some form of disability.

However, when the baby came out to the world, Nabanda noticed that its legs were not in the right shape. 

“No woman expects that to happen to her child. But it is something you do not have control over,” she says.

Nabanda, now in her early 70s, says children, whether born with some disability or not, are precious gifts and must be given the best care a parent can offer.

“Unfortunately for me I did not have anything to offer my child. We were a very poor family such that we couldn’t even send the child to school,” she recollects.

That child, named Monica Kafantandala, needed assistance in form of mobility assistive gear to attend school but the parents couldn’t afford any.

At 48 years old now, Monica is a poor illiterate single mother of two, struggling with the realities of life.

“It was my wish to get educated. Unfortunately, schools were at far distances and I couldn’t walk. At least if there was a wheelchair my story could be different,” Monica says.

Her two children, born in 2000 and 2004, dropped out of school upon reaching standard 7 due to lack of parental support after the father bolted away.

“He told me he was going to Lilongwe to look for piecework and that was it. He never came back.

“So the children have grown up in very difficult conditions. They both just dropped out of school and started doing piece works to support me,” she says.

Monica attributes her family’s impoverishment to the disability which made her fail to get to school.

She is not alone.

District Social Welfare Officer for Kasungu, Ephraim Njikho, says people with disabilities often suffer in silence because they are invisible as they lack exposure.

“In most cases, they are confined to their homes and end up missing out on socioeconomic opportunities.

“When they meet various difficult situations, such as being excluded in socioeconomic activities, they don’t come in the open. They are invisible and suffer in silence,” Njikho observes.

He says there is need to raise community awareness through advocacy and trainings to help them enjoy their rights on equal footing like anyone else.

Esther Luhana, who chairs Kasungu District Disability Forum, says in most families headed by a person with disability, there are high levels of poverty because of lack of education.

“While there may be some systematic exclusion of people with disabilities in some cases, the major cause of poverty is that most of our members did not get proper education because of their conditions.

“Most of them have not received proper support in terms of education hence they are living in miserable conditions,” she says.

According to the 2018-2023 National Disability Mainstreaming Strategy, there are over 1.5 million people with disabilities in the country and about 90 percent of them live in the rural areas surviving on subsistence farming.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) noticed this challenge and hatched the Sparking Disability Inclusive Rural Transformation (Spark) project for promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities.

Broadly, the Spark initiative seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities, particularly women like Monica, and youths, actively participate in, and benefit from, rural development projects tailored to fit the specific profiles of their disabilities, priority needs, constraints and opportunities.

The two-year project seeks to create and promote employment opportunities among people with disabilities in programmes that are funded by the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) in Malawi.

It also aims to expose them to opportunities that are there so that they live a quality and independent life through participation in inclusive socioeconomic activities.

National Project Officer for Spark, Vincent Kavala, says at least 300 people with all kinds of impairments have already found opportunities in the IFAD funded projects, specifically Transforming Agriculture through Diversification and Entrepreneurship (TRADE) and Financial Access for Rural Markets, Smallholders and Enterprise (FARMSE).

The TRADE project supports rural communities in the agriculture value chain while the FARMSE programme supports household economic development through promotion of access to financial services.

Kavala says: “We are targeting people with any type of impairment through a rights based approach towards inclusion. We understand that people with disabilities face a number of barriers, including attitudes from communities, extension officers and inaccessible infrastructure which hinder their participation.

“We have made good strides in that we have over 300 beneficiaries included in IFAD funded programmes in Kasungu only, against our target of 428. We are sure by the end of this year we will have reached our target.”

In Kasungu, the project is targeting persons with disabilities in Traditional Authorities Chulu, Chisemphere, Kaluluma and Kaomba. Elsewhere, it is also being implemented in Thyolo, Nkhata Bay and Chitipa.

So far, the project has trained 20 Disability Inclusion Facilitators from each of the target districts to provide professional advice on understanding disability and how to make disability inclusion work.

In turn, the facilitators have helped to build capacity of IFAD programmes and implementing staff on how to include people with disabilities in the various livelihood and agricultural value chain programmes.

In line with the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, the 2021 ILO Disability Inclusion Policy commits to mainstreaming disability inclusion in its quest to promote decent work for all people including those with disabilities.  

Malawi Council for Disability Affairs (MACODA) District Manager for Kasungu, Wisdom Mseteka, says the Spark project has helped to built capacity of organisations of persons with disabilities to enable them to effectively represent the needs of their membership and offer technical expertise on disability inclusion.

“There are many people with disabilities in the district who live in similar circumstances like Monica’s.

“But we are thankful to ILO through the Spark project for uplifting their lives, giving them the dignity that they deserve just like any other person,” he says.

Mseteka says the Spark project has assisted a lot in terms of mobilisation of persons with disabilities, fighting for their inclusion in various community projects and also empowering them.

“Through awareness conducted by Spark disability inclusion facilitators, most people with disabilities have joined cooperatives and farmers’ clubs, which is helping to uplift their livelihood.

“And again as MACODA, through our partnership with the Spark initiative, we have managed to conduct awareness activities through which we have identified people with disabilities and linked them with service providers, especially those that provide assistive devices,” he says.

According to Mseteka, over 131 people with disabilities identified through the project activities, including Monica, have already been assisted with tricycles and clutches to enable them to participate in development activities and conduct businesses that have improved their livelihoods.

“We want to see total inclusion, making sure that the rights of people with disabilities are respected and recognised at all levels. We do not want them to lag behind.

“People with disabilities must take up positions in their communities and that whoever is carrying out development initiatives in the community must recognise them by ensuring their involvement,” Mseteka says.

Funded to the tune of $230, 000 (about K400 million), the Spark project is implemented together with the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare as the policy holder on disability issues.

Furthermore, ILO is also working with Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi, Ministry of Labour, Malawi Congress of Trade Union, and Employers Consultative Association of Malawi, at both national and district levels.

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