Friday, March 21, 2014

Children with Disabilities: An Invisible Group in need of attention

When the Ugly Duckling Fairy Tale begins, the eggs under a mother duck hatch. From one of the eggs a baby bird emerges that is very different from the others.  This little bird is perceived by the other birds and animals on the farm as a homely little creature and suffers much verbal and physical abuse from them. He wanders sadly from the barnyard and lives with wild ducks and geese until hunters slaughter the flocks. He finds a home with an old woman but her cat and hen tease him mercilessly and again he sets off on his own. He sees a flock of migrating wild swans; he is delighted and excited but he cannot join them for he is too young and cannot fly. Winter arrives. A farmer finds and carries the freezing little bird home, but the foundling is frightened by the farmer’s noisy children and flees the house. He spends a miserable winter alone in the outdoors mostly hiding in a cave on the lake that partly freezes over. When spring arrives a flock of swans descends on the now thawing lake. The ugly duckling, now having fully grown and matured cannot endure a life of solitude and hardship anymore and decides to throw himself at the flock of swans deciding that it is better to be killed by such beautiful birds than to live a life of ugliness and misery. He is shocked when the swans welcome and accept him, only to realize by looking at his reflection in the water that he has grown into one of them. The flock takes to the air and the ugly duckling spreads his beautiful large wings and takes flight with the rest of his new family.

Like the Ugly Duckling, society’s misperception of different forms and types of disability and the limited capacity of social actors to accommodate disabilities often keep children with disabilities at the margins of society. According to the World Report on Disability, more than one billion people around the world, of whom nearly 93 million are children, live with some form of disability.

In our work we come across children with disabilities facing major challenges such as abandonment, lack of access to inclusive education, lack of adequate health care and rehabilitation services, inaccessible infrastructure and discrimination from the community.

Everywhere they live, people with disabilities are statistically more likely to receive little formal education, be illiterate, unemployed and have less access to support networks. They are further isolated by discrimination, ignorance and prejudices.

At HOM, we consider it a priority to contribute to a general awareness of disability issues in order to reduce the stigma surrounding disability, reintegrate children with disabilities into their communities and ensure that they receive appropriate services.

We recognise that little will change in the lives of children with disabilities unless attitudes change. Ignorance about the nature and causes of impairments, invisibility of the children themselves, serious under-estimation of their potential and capacities, and other impediments to equal opportunity and treatment all conspire to keep children with disabilities silenced and marginalised.

Fairy tales like the Ugly Duckling focus our attention on phenomenal moments of transformation, when poor and depressed characters take on new personas that are beautiful, strong and successful. However happy endings do not just happen; they are triggered by the creation of opportunities for turning points.

Through our work and through speaking out, we seek creative ways to advocate for children who face discrimination or disadvantage in their daily lives. We seek to create opportunities for children with disabilities so they are no longer left behind.

We aspire to a nation where children with disabilities are recognised as equal members of society and are able to achieve their full potential.

Bunmi Awoyinfa
House of Mercy Children’s Home, Lagos (HOM) is actively involved in various charitable activities including outreach to street children, child beggars and child scavengers; provision of free meals and free clothing for needy children; school sponsorship for child beggars and family-based residential homes for girls and boys at risk. Within the limits of available resources, we support children in crisis across Africa.
Convention on the Rights of the Child