Humanity & Inclusion’s regional logistics manager, Tilahun Abebe, shares the highlight of his recent visit to Tigray, Ethiopia.
I was able to visit Tigray for a week this summer. No one had been able to visit our team in Tigray for quite a long time due to security constraints.
One morning, during breakfast with my colleagues, the silhouette of a woman appeared in the distance and caught my eye. I could see her making her way across the cobblestone pathway, fading in and out of my view between the many passing pedestrians in the road, crawling on her hands and knees. We crossed the street to find her propped up on some stairs leading to a roadside shop, with one hand supporting her weight, and the other stretched out to ask for money. Neither the man in the shop nor the people passing by seemed to pay her any attention. I was not surprised, as I had already noticed an overwhelming number of people soliciting assistance in the street since my arrival in Mekele: from small children to elderly persons, clearly internally displaced from other parts of Tigray. You could tell from the looks on their faces that many were new to this way of life and were living very differently only a few weeks or months earlier.
I am an Ethiopian citizen, still living in Addis Ababa, and I have traveled to many regions of the country. The desperate situation of the people I saw on the streets of Mekele that week is something I will never forget.
The woman sensed us standing next to her and turned toward us. I still remembered some Tigrigna language from childhood friends and social media, so I greeted her and introduced myself. She returned the greeting with a smile and kindness, and shared her story with us.
Her name is Freweyni, which means “grapefruit” in the local language. She is a mother to three children and she was born with a physical disability. In the previous years, she was displaced from her home and has since been staying in various shelters around the major market area of Mekele. Her oldest son left home when the war began, but her two younger children still live with her and she is their sole provider. She spends her days asking for money around the market to try and support her family.
Since meeting with Freweyni and learning about her situation, I put her in touch with our teams. Humanity & Inclusion has provided her with a new wheelchair. This means that for many months or years to come, she will no longer have to crawl on her hands and knees to move around. She’s one of 50 people to recently receive wheelchairs from Humanity & Inclusion in Tigray. Having served in many humanitarian organizations for over two decades, this experience remains at the top of all I have encountered. It’s part of what makes me love working at Humanity & Inclusion.
Tilahun Abebe, Humanity & Inclusion’s regional logistics manager
Without any mobility device available, Omod relied on others to get from place to place. With Humanity & Inclusion’s support, he has a new wheelchair and newfound independence.
Omod, 11, has cerebral palsy. Unable to walk on his own, he also needs assistance completing daily tasks such as eating and getting dressed. His grandmother, Athiep Ojulu, has been his caretaker since he was 3 years old. She prepares Omod’s meals, feeds him, bathes him and washes his clothes. Before Omod received a wheelchair, Athiep carried him on her back when they needed to go from one place to another.
Though Omod dreamed of playing and having fun with the other children his age, he was nervous to approach them and his mobility limitations ultimately kept him from joining in. Occasionally, his grandmother would try putting him in social situations, but the other children did not want to play with him.
Humanity & Inclusion has launched a disability awareness campaign in the community to promote inclusion of people with disabilities.
A wheelchair changed everything
During a door-to-door screening in Ethiopia, Humanity & Inclusion staff met with Omod and his grandmother, and referred him to the organization’s rehabilitation team to determine how they could support him. A physical therapist conducted an evaluation, and provided Omod with his first wheelchair to help improve his mobility and grant him independence.
“I was thrilled and in tears when Humanity & Inclusion visited my home to support us, because no one had done that before,” Athiep Ojulu says. “Now, everything is easier for my grandson and me. Everywhere I go, I can take him with me. I am so grateful to Humanity & Inclusion for doing such a fantastic job. It is truly amazing and I consider it to be a miracle. Thank you so much.”
Humanity & Inclusion’s team also provided family counseling and basic hygiene supplies to Omod and his grandmother.
These activities are funded in part by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Avotavy used to spend all day alone because of her disability. With rehabilitation care from Humanity & Inclusion, she has improved her mobility and gained the confidence to make friends.
Avotavy, 9, lives with her mother, father, and two siblings in a tiny one-room house in Bezaha, Madagascar. Avotavy was born with a disability that affects her legs, so she is not able to walk or stand on her own. Her lack of mobility had a significant impact on Avotavy’s confidence. Though she could easily move her arms and speak, she spent most of her time sitting completely still, alone and silent in a corner.
One day, Avotavy met with Germaine, a community agent trained by Humanity & Inclusion to identify people who could benefit from rehabilitation services. She connected Avotavy’s parents to a Humanity & Inclusion partner physical therapist who helps her perform exercises and massages her leg muscles to relieve tension. They also teach Avotavy’s parents how to continue the exercises at home. After attending only three sessions, her mobility began to improve–and so did her confidence.
Community Agent Germaine with Humanity & Inclusion's physical therapist, Avotavy and Avotavy's mother.
Rehabilitation makes a difference
“She is now able to crawl, which she could never do before,” her mother explains. “She can also move her feet and sit up on her own. Now that she is moving, she has friends. She runs all around the village on her hands and knees playing games with the other children. Some days she is gone all day playing and laughing. It has made a huge difference!”
Avotavy says that her favorite game to play is “kitchen,” where she pretends to prepare meals using dirt, leaves and rocks as her main ingredients. She and her friends also play a Malagasy game called “tantara,” where they tell stories by hitting rocks together. Each rock represents a different character, similar to playing with dolls.
Avotavy’s dream coming true
Avotavy’s older sister teaches her what she learns at school, so Avotavy can write, draw, and even proudly count to 10 in French! She has always dreamed of going to school herself, but has never been able to because of her disability.
Humanity & Inclusion’s staff have helped her enroll for the upcoming school year, and they say that her mobility will have improved even more by the time classes start. Avotavy can’t wait. She says she will grow up to be a midwife one day.
As Humanity & Inclusion’s team leave Avotavy for the afternoon, her mother smiles wide and eagerly asks, “When is her next session?”
Living with the long-term effects of polio, Nuan faces discrimination and challenges in providing for her family. Humanity & Inclusion has provided her with seed money to raise livestock.
As a child, Nuan was bullied because of her disability. She was unable to complete her schooling because her family could not afford the fees.
Now 34, Nuan is married with children. She is a farmer, but because of her disability and the fact that her husband also has health problems, they do not earn enough to pay for their son's education or save money for emergencies.
Through Humanity & Inclusion’s livelihood support project, Nuan receives financial assistance for her livestock operation. She currently has 14 ducks, 12 chickens and two pigs.
"Even though we do things differently from other people, we should not be despised and discriminated against because we have a disability,” Nuan says. “We want to be independent, not to be a burden. I really appreciate all the efforts made to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities.”
With Humanity & Inclusion, she has participated in a training course on disability and inclusion and is now a disability “champion” in her village.
Because of her can-do attitude, Nuan has been asked to lead the village women's union. She helps other people with disabilities or mobility problems. When the village receives donations of food or clothing, she helps distribute it to the community and ensures that people with disabilities are given equal treatment.
In Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, Racheal Njiru works each day alongside people with disabilities to help remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion. Racheal shares insight on her role as the disability inclusive development project manager at the refugee camp.
I’ve been working at Humanity & Inclusion for over three years as project manager. I chose the humanitarian sector because I love community work. I’ve always felt the need to help others. I trained in the social sciences at Daystar University, in Nairobi, to get the skills and knowledge I need to do this
I particularly enjoy working in the socio-economic sector, supporting refugees in developing their businesses. I want to help bring about positive change, to contribute to the socio-economic development of my country, and more generally of Africa.
Remarkable stories and people
What motivates me is to see that I can make a difference in someone's life. I like to support people in developing a project and see their situation improve. It’s very inspiring to meet people we’ve helped and whose lives have changed.
Some stories leave their mark. I remember one woman who really impressed me. Every month, she delivered coal to a company. Then Covid-19 came along, which upset everything and threatened the survival of many small private businesses like hers. But she wasn’t discouraged. She used the financial support and training that Humanity & Inclusion gave her to save money and build five rental houses. Now she can rent them out and has a new income stream. I really admire this woman's strength and determination.
Everyday problems in the refugee camp
Kakuma camp is home to more than 240,000 refugees who live in very cramped conditions. The resources available to them are insufficient and ill-adapted. For example, there are not enough schools for the number of students. Even the geographical location of the camp is not ideal. It's located in Kenya's arid zone where it can get extremely hot. During periods of drought, people are in danger of losing their livelihoods.
For people with disabilities, there are also physical barriers affecting accessibility in the camp. The infrastructure is not adapted and some people with disabilities have to depend on their relatives to help them access buildings or get around the camp.
Refugees with disabilities face systemic obstacles and barriers. For example, they are not members of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities. This means they don’t benefit from the measures in place for people with disabilities in Kenya, such as training opportunities, distributions of mobility aids or tax exemption for businesses.
It is vital to understand that the people we work with face complex issues, which can make them more vulnerable than others. For example, when different services are offered within the camp, we have to take care to include those who are most vulnerable by asking the right questions. Who are the people most at risk? Will they have access to distribution sites? It is our responsibility to take these aspects into account when identifying needs and delivering humanitarian aid.
In the Kakuma refugee camp, Humanity & Inclusion runs a project which offers functional rehabilitation, psychosocial support & inclusion services, as well as inclusive education and economic inclusion projects. Our goal is to empower everyone to be autonomous. We take a holistic approach, promoting people’s dignity and aiming to improve all aspects of their daily lives. Inclusion is everyone's business and together we can make a difference!
A valuable member of Humanity & Inclusion’s team in Madagascar, Deriaz ensures that rehabilitation patients get the support they need.
In Tuléar, Humanity & Inclusion partners with the center for rehabilitation and prosthetic fitting at the regional hospital. Trained community agents identify individuals who could benefit from rehabilitation services, stimulation therapy and artificial limbs., then Humanity & Inclusion links them to the appropriate services, covers associated costs, organizes logistics and follows their progress.
Q: What is your role?
My name is Deriaz Christian, and I work for the Improved Continuum of Inclusive Maternal and Child Health Care and Rehabilitation project in the southwest region of Madagascar. I have been working with Humanity & Inclusion for almost three years now.
When people come to the rehabilitation center, I support them throughout the process. My role is to accompany, supervise and organize their visits. I reserve and cover the finances of their cabs and buses to travel to the center, and I book their accommodation here. I also manage the payments that cover their food costs while they are here receiving services. We oversee the whole process to make sure everyone can access rehabilitation services.
Sometimes the coordination is complicated, because there are different kinds of patients for different services, and sometimes many people come at the same time, so it’s important to know everyone well and to be organized.
Q: What do you like most about your work?
I love everything about my work! I love taking care of the people we serve because I get to have a relationship with everyone.
In my previous job, I worked with vulnerable populations, too. But here at Humanity & Inclusion, I get to work with people living in vulnerable circumstances and people who have disabilities. As someone with a disability myself, I want to help people in similar situations. (Complications from polio led to a disability that affects Deriaz’s leg.)
The patients that have had the biggest impact on me are people with total paralysis, in both their lower limbs and upper limbs. We see just how far society still has to go to be accessible for these individuals.
Q: Any final thoughts?
My message is to raise awareness in everyone, especially in people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. They should not hide. Instead, bring children with disabilities and people with disabilities here to the center for rehabilitation and prosthetic services that so they can be taken care of.
Tok, 27, lost his leg in a work accident. Over the last two years, Humanity & Inclusion has provided him with an artificial limb and rehabilitation care in Laos.
Five years ago, Tok was hired to cut down a tree that was touching a power line. When the tree fell, it crushed his left leg. Tok managed to call his brother, who rushed him to hospital, but his leg was too badly damaged and had to be amputated. Tok’s acquired disability presented challenges and prevented him from performing certain everyday tasks.
In 2020, Humanity & Inclusion referred Tok to its rehabilitation center, where he received physical therapy and an artificial limb. Since then, Tok has regained independence.
Today, Tok’s living conditions have improved significantly. He can work again and has started to raise livestock. He is also employed by the Lao electricity board, collecting data on electricity consumption, distributing bills and collecting dues.
Tok has also joined a group of red mushroom producers and received training in the bamboo value chain, which has helped boost his income. In the future, he hopes to expand his farm and keep goats.
Advocating for disability rights
Tok has also received training from Humanity & Inclusion and Group for Research and Technology Exchanges (GRET) on disability rights and inclusion.
Now a community volunteer, he advocates against discrimination and promotes understanding, acceptance and awareness of the rights of people with disabilities and the importance of their inclusion. He also provides peer support.
His goal is to remove the physical barriers encountered by people with disabilities.
"People with disabilities need support to access public services and opportunities to improve their lives," Tok explains. "I have received a lot of support and it has changed my life."
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Mr. Khamphong has been living with a disability since 2006, when he lost mobility due to health issues with his leg. He runs a cattle operation to generate income, with the support of Humanity & Inclusion.
Mr. Khamphong lives in the Houphan Province in eastern Laos. Before he acquired a disability, he made a living from farming and selling seasonal forest products he collected. He was very involved in his community and even served on his village’s security team.
In 2006, at the age of 23, he developed acute gout in his left leg and needed surgery. His health worsened when he developed a post-surgical bone infection in his ankle.
Today, at the age of 39, Mr. Khamphong has a deformity in his leg that causes him great pain and reduces his mobility. His income has decreased because he can’t work as much, and he can no longer carry out his duties on the security team.
"People with a disability have a much harder life than others,” Mr. Khamphong says. “It's not funny when someone mocks you by imitating the way you walk. We can do a lot of things. We just need support to improve our living conditions."
To generate more income, Humanity & Inclusion has provided Mr. Khamphong livelihood support for his cattle operation.
Despite his limited mobility, Mr. Khamphong has never given up and works hard to support his family. In addition to raising cattle, he dreams of opening to a motorbike repair shop to earn more money to support his family.
Sundari, 11, has an intellectual disability that creates memory and learning difficulties. With the support of Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal, she’s enrolled in a class adapted to her needs.
A fifth grader, Sundari lives in a dormitory at the school, which is more than 60 miles away from her home. Her favorite subject is science. She recently made a presentation to her classmates in which she drew an animal cell on the whiteboard and talked about its different parts.
“I want to become a doctor one day to save people’s lives and help the elderly,” Sundari explains.
Sundari spends most of her time with her best friend, Bipana. Together, they play Ludo, a strategy board game that is Sundari’s favorite.
"Sundari is very open and friendly,” Bipana says. “She sometimes gets angry, but I can calm her down really quickly."
Inclusive education resources
The resource class in Sundari’s school caters to 30 students with disabilities. Children learn the Nepali and English alphabets, numbers, words, body parts, as well as hygiene and self-care. When they’re ready, students join their classmates for inclusive lessons.
“Sundari was enrolled in the resource class – a class where children with intellectual disabilities study together - when she was 5 years old,” explains her teacher, Bhupendra Khadka. “She was enrolled during her early childhood development years and has since progressed to mainstream classes. She is now second in her class.”
Children in resources classes range in age from 7 to 17, with some even in their 20s. Like Sundari, some transition to mainstream classes after a few years in a resource class.
Over the past four years, the school’s resource class has been supported by Humanity & Inclusion and its local partner HUSADEC (Human Rights, Social Awareness and Development Center). Resource classes welcome children with a range of disabilities, including sensory and intellectual disabilities.
Only 380 of Nepal's 30,000 schools have resource classes, and Humanity & Inclusion supports a 50 of them. Teams provide educational materials adapted to the needs of children with disabilities, including braille books or sign language learning mobile applications. Other support materials include foam letters, word cards, toy balls, storybooks in local languages and stationery. Educators are also trained to adapt their teaching methods to the needs of children with disabilities.
Last school year, Humanity & Inclusion also provided hygiene kits and school bags to 500 students with disabilities in 46 resource classes across 10 districts to help them continue to learn during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Promoting disability inclusion
Uttam Prasad Bhattarai, the headmaster of Sundari’s school, explains that in rural villages, acceptance of children with disabilities can be challenging.
“There is a social stigma associated with disability,” Bhattarai says. “When children with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, enter a mainstream class after their entrance examination, some parents of children without disabilities are reluctant to send their children to the school. Children with disabilities tend to enroll in school at later ages than their peers and so they are older than their classmates."
Humanity & Inclusion and its local partners continue to fight for access to education for children with disabilities.
The resource classes have been supported by Humanity & Inclusion and its local partner since May 2018 as part of the Reading for All program, which is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).