Louise Allain, 28th January 2014
Next month in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe, Special Olympics along with the Republic of Malawi and a host of other stakeholders and charities will hold the African Leaders Forum on Disability. Siddharth Chatterjee of IFRC and David Evangelista of Special Olympics discuss the impact this forum will have on Africa's disabled population and why it is vital that action is taken to provide options for children and their carers.
Here in the first world we have experienced a revolution regarding disabilities over the last few decades that means we are all more aware of the need to understand the physical diversity of those in our society, who may through injury or birth defects, be intellectually challenged.
Government directives to provide social and financial care for such individuals has been put in place throughout the country, and more importantly intellectually disabled children have been woven into our educational systems, their needs organised around their peers, and we have evolved from the idea such intellectually disabled children are a mere burden and kept out of sight.
Siddharth Chatterjee and David Evangelista highlight in a recent blog for HuffPost how the reverse is true in the global south of the developing world. The situation is very painfully shown in the example of a mother who must tether her little boy to a post before she heads off into the fields to work. Unable to place him in school because of his intellectual disabilities, she can't possibly leave him to his own devices, which might easily prove fatal. Tethered alongside the pig pen is her only option.
There are some positive steps being taken by global institutions to advance the situation of the disabled and bring about change such as the UN global summit last September, however it all still falls short of the drastic changes needed to enable these children and their parents or carers to live a better quality of life. "We know as a global community that not only do some of the most marginalized children deserve better, but so do their mothers and fathers and caregivers."
I think it is worth remembering too, the work of those like Tim Shriver who, until recently, was CEO of Special Olympics. Tim's Mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the Special Olympics out of her home in Maryland in 1968 and was a life long campaigner for children's health and disability; her son Tim carries the light that illuminates the plight of intellectual disability with aplomb and great zeal.
Such institutions as Special Olympics are the ethical benchmark needed worldwide to embrace and comprehend intellectual disabilities and eradicate the need for any parent to have to tether their disabled child like something out of a Victorian novel, and move closer to a disability inclusive, global framework.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the Chief Diplomat at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC. David Evangelista is Vice President, Global Development and Government Relations, Special Olympics.