One of the un-avoidable realities of Sierra Leone is the people with disabilities. It is one of those ongoing, living memories, or a horrendous past while also being a witness of Sierra Leon's mixed present. Two of the biggest sources of disability have their roots in the civil war. It was one aspect of the campaign of terror, that rebels would simply cut off people's limbs, especially if they had an education. It was a way that they left a permanent mark on people's lives and their country. Like all wars disease is often not far behind. During the war the public health system was decimated. The result was an outbreak of polio, leaving countless more children crippled.
As horrible as this is, there is also another side. On our walk each day for breakfast, we passed a blacksmith/tinsmith shop. There, there were people who were "disabled" showing how abled they really are, as they shaped metal stoves and countless other object. In Sierra Leone, the dis-abled, are far from being un-able.
This has also been a part of the work of CAUSE. Since the civil war they have been working to help people with disabilities get educations; start income generating activities; overcome social isolation through sports, recreation and drama groups; and help people regain mobility through rehabilitation and prothesis. Great things have also been achieved in advocacy with the passing in 2011 of a national disability bill that was in part shaped by those with disabilities.
Now again comes some more dis-abilizing. There is all of this good work happening, but it is dependent on funders from Europe and North America and when we have messed up our economies, cutting the way we assist others overseas seems like such an easy place to cut. The result is that these programs have ended and now await funding. It makes me wonder, who is disabled? Who is dis-abilizing? Where are we and our own hearts in all of this?
(In Sierra Leone, people with disabilities generally don't like their photos taken. Who could blame them after all they must wonder, is their photo being taken as a freak or out of pity? So no photos this week)