It is rare that you find answers to development questions. Many problems are so complex that it seems they can never be solved. Today, I had the privilege of coming away with a recipe for success.
We drove two and a half hours from the city of Ilo Ilo, an hour's flight south of Manila to the seaside town of Concepcion. The road is fringed with bamboo shacks, rice fields and sugar cane plantations with occasional views of the sea. Roadside stalls sell bananas, coconuts, firewood and long pieces of bamboo for construction. Other sights included a motorbike and side car holding 10 people, brightly decorated ‘jeepneys' (cars cut in half and then extended to carry as many passengers as possible) and bicycle taxis taking children to and from school.
The meeting brought together 11 of the 25 disability village leaders in the local government unit along with the mayor. Strong ocean swells prevented others attending from the islands. The venue was a small hotel with a sea view. Thanks to the generosity of the owner, this hotel serves as a home away from home for the group.
Together, they have designed a recipe for success in creating greater equality for persons with disability. The key ingredients are:
1. A handful of courageous persons with disabilities
2. Information on their rights
3. A local government determined to fulfill its legal obligations to persons with disabilities
Combine with 20 years of decentralized government and "Magna Carta" legislation on the rights of persons with disabilities, which was developed in 1991. Simmer (for eight years in this case), and stir occasionally.
Whilst they have yet to realize their full potential, these disability leaders have managed to:
1. Increase the number of persons with disabilities registered from 40 to more than 1,000 (social stigma and weaknesses in the gathering of information are key constraints)
2. Secure a doubling of the budget from last year to $5,000 to support disability related activities (at the start of the project there was no budget)
3. Play a role in the writing of the local development plan over the next three years.
4. Secure a leading role for persons with disabilities in community and political life
Next year they want to find a place to meet and provide specific services.
Most of all, the group has transformed lives – theirs and for those they represent. Eight years ago, Novy Grace Deocadez was a wheelchair user, trapped in her house in a hilly community, waiting for medical support. Now she is secretary for the Federation of Disability Organizations in the municipality and also manages payments to fishermen. Her life has been transformed by Handicap International's training and the provision of the "Rough Rider" design of her wheelchair (built by Freedom Technology, an enterprise established by Handicap International to improve the quality of wheelchairs). When asked what she needs to inspire other communities to make the changes she has brought about in her municipality, she requested just the travel costs.
Novy has the recipe for success and has seen the process from the inside. Handicap International's role was vital. As she puts it herself, “You stopped me from being shy.” Our role now is in helping her and her colleagues to share the recipe with others.
- Edward Winter, Director of Institutional Funding for Handicap International-U.S.