A Brief History of Disability in Wales and Africa
On December 2nd 2010 a group of interested people met in the Jasmine Centre, Ely in Cardiff, to look at how disability issues could be better included within the activities of the Wales Africa sector. Over the next year, a fluctuating group of people met under the auspices of Diverse Cymru, to discuss the development of DWA (Disability in Wales and Africa). In January 2012, a Steering Group was formed and this later became a Management Committee. DWA is an unincorporated association and is currently looking into becoming a charity.
DWA does not have any direct African partners but, rather, works with and through organisations that do. It seeks to influence, primarily, Welsh organisations who have African partners, encouraging them to adopt disability-inclusive approaches in their work. As such DWA aims to position itself as “core” to the Wales Africa sector, developing better understanding of the need to include disabled people and their families within the development process. In 2014 DWA received a Training Award from the Wales for Africa Office. Its Coordinator was also recognised for his work regarding Inclusion.
In 2015 DWA invited organisations to share their logo on its website in response to a declaration that the then forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should ‘Leave No One Behind’. More recently, partly due to the increasing general awareness of disability as a major development issue, DWA’s focus has shifted from the broader concept of disability inclusion, specifically, to the involvement of disabled people and their organisations. This is summed up through the statement ‘Disabled people say “Nothing About Us Without Us”’.
Training, information and the promotion of good practice have always been important within the work of DWA. It regularly contributes to the Wales for Africa Health Links Conference, as well as to the International Development Summit. In the past, DWA also contributed to Wales Africa Community Links activities. It has produced newsletters and written articles as part of this agenda. Additionally, DWA has played a role in assisting and encouraging new and old Wales Africa Links that have a disability focus, to establish and develop.
In 2013 DWA launched a campaign known as Getting Disabled Children to School. This culminated at the end of September that year with a sponsored bike ride around Lake Vyrnwy, supported by 4 Links, which raised approximately £1,000 to help disabled children in Africa to attend school. The event was also visited by Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion and then co-chair of the Cross-party Parliamentary Committee for Global Education.
To celebrate the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities (UNIDPD), on December 3rd 2013, DWA hosted a photographic display in the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay. This illustrated life for disabled people in both Wales and Kenya and was sponsored by Rebecca Evans AM. The UNIDPD is held on this date annually across the world and is always prominent in the DWA calendar. It illustrates the international solidarity of disabled people that the organisation seeks to promote.
In 2013/14 DWA conducted a Survey of the Wales Africa sector regarding the inclusion of disability within its activities. Several issues were highlighted and one of particular note was the identification that, if disabled people are involved at the Welsh end of a Link, there is more likely to be engagement with disability issues in Africa. This was followed, towards the end of 2014, by a piece of research looking at how disability work had increased within the sector since 2010. Reports are available upon request.
In 2014/15 DWA supported a Welsh based research programme, looking into the benefits and usage of Appropriate Paper-based Technology (APT) devices for disabled children. This method uses cardboard, newspaper, and other local and readily available materials in the making of, for example, standing frames and seats for children with cerebral palsy and similar conditions. DWA’s contribution to this programme was to bring together five Kenyan communities, all of whom had links with Wales, to, firstly join a three day Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) workshop (October 2014), followed by a 2 week training in APT (February/March 2015). DWA was also involved in a follow up visit to establish how the communities had managed to use their new skills (March/April 2016). Although the technique has been used for twenty years, or more, in various parts of the world, particularly Africa, to develop devices to assist disabled children, there has not previously been research as to how effective it is both therapeutically and socially.
One of the most notable DWA projects was towards the end of 2015 when, through one of its Welsh partners, Health Help International, it was able to host an African disability activist, Jonah Sialumano from Zambia. This visit to Wales fulfilled many purposes, as DWA enabled Jonah to visit a variety of Welsh linking organisations as well as members of the Welsh Disability Movement. The visit culminated in a very successful 3rd December UNIDPD event, which included a presentation by Rhian Davies, Chief Executive Officer of Disability Wales, at the Ty Hywel building, Cardiff Bay. This was hosted by John Griffiths AM. These activities helped to raise the profile of disabled people in Africa and the need for their inclusion in the development process, as well as to forge stronger links with the Welsh Disability Movement.
There is a real sense in which the inclusion of disabled people within the Sector starts as much in Wales as it does in Africa. This is exemplified by an ongoing initiative to promote disabled people’s involvement within the Welsh side of Wales Africa Links. The logic of this follows DWA’s earlier research identifying that greater participation by disabled people in Wales will promote more disability engagement in Africa. Another initiative that DWA started to explore during 2016 is that of disabled people in both Wales and Africa sharing their stories. Furthermore, the DWA Coordinator’s participation in the Cardiff Half Marathon, bearing the message ‘Disabled people say “Nothing About Us Without Us”’ in Welsh, English and 4 African languages (October 2016) was, in part, about raising awareness of the connectivity between disabled people in both Wales and Africa.
From May 2016 to May 2017 DWA has supported the Brecon Molo Community Partnership (BMCP) to manage a programme known as Community Health Support for Disabled Children. This programme was funded by the Tropical Health Education Trust (THET). It used Training the Trainer methodology to transfer information from Powys Local Teaching Health Board Volunteers to Community Health Volunteers in Molo. The aim was to enable the latter to identify and signpost disabled children, and their families, to get the services and support they need.
During 2017, DWA developed a disability inclusive development training day alongside Hub Cymru Africa (HCA), Disability Wales and the Disability Information and Support Network. It has also played an advisory role to HCA, Pont Mbale and Bees for Development as they have put together an application to the Big Lottery. An important aspect of this consultation role has been to encourage direct contact with disabled people and their organisations in Mbale.
Fundamental to the DWA message is that disability is a global issue. After you have stripped away the economic and social contexts in which respective disabled people live, the problems they face are remarkably similar. The development process, with regards the inclusion of disabled people, needs to take place in Wales as well as Africa. This is highlighted in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the SDGs. The obligations under the UNCRPD apply both to the Welsh Government, through the UK’s signature and ratification, and to those African countries which have taken the same actions. The SDGs take a universal approach to international development with many goals, targets and indicators applying to both the Global North and the Global South. DWA hopes that, whilst it seeks to focus its impact on Africa, disabled communities in both Wales and Africa will benefit from its work.
DWA plans to continue its focus on training, information and advisory work. The slogan ‘Disabled people say “Nothing About Us Without Us”’ will continue to underpin our values, encouraging the engagement of disabled people in international development, particularly within Wales and Africa. DWA promotes greater solidarity between Welsh and African disabled people, and their organisations, and their active inclusion in all walks of life. It also promotes south to south linking between disabled people of Africa.
When DWA first started, disability was a comparatively little-addressed subject within the Wales Africa sector. Several years later, with the SDGs building on the foundations laid by the UNCRPD, and with the higher profile promoted by HCA of inclusion, disability is now recognised as an area that warrants far greater attention. The Welsh Government recognises the importance of the SDGs in developing and progressing the Well-being of Future Generations Act. DWA, with its focus on disabled people and their organisations, is in a prime position to support the Wales Africa sector in developing its disability inclusion agenda and looks forward to the opportunity to play a more central role.