Education and professional opportunities for the disabled: the commitment of missionaries
Lusaka (Agenzia Fides) - Assisting disabled people in Zambia means offering them physical and psychological support but, above all, it means helping them to overcome the social stigma that surrounds them. These are the objectives of the Pope John XXIII Association and of the Franciscan missionary Sisters of Assisi who, in collaboration with the NGO Celim, have created a project that looks to the world of the handicap. The plan, called "Disability", aims to improve the educational offer, ensuring quality education, adequate structures and trained teachers, and aims to increase job opportunities for the disabled, offering adequate health care.
In Zambia, according to WHO data, two million people are affected by disabilities, about 15% of the population. The data show that in this percentage there is a prevalence of women over men, with a greater concentration in rural areas than in city areas. State laws are limited. There is a law in the country (Disability Act 2012) which should help families and disabled people. The lack of funds means that this rule is completely disregarded and therefore means, infrastructures and specific training are lacking.
For years, Catholic missionaries have been offering care and assistance to the disabled. In Zambia, as in much of Africa, the stigma against the world of handicap is still strong. Disability is seen as the fruit of a curse, of a sort of witchcraft. So families tend to hide disabled children. "The average Zambian - says Tommaso Sartori of Celim to Fides - does not discriminate against the disabled. I have often seen men and women approaching disabled people, talking with them, having a peaceful relationship with them. Having said that, "there is still a sense of shame, perhaps of discomfort in families, which means that disability is not talked about and that people with disabilities are relegated to the world of the home".
The effort to improve the living conditions of the disabled is therefore indispensable, but to this must be added a continuous awareness-raising work in the family and community context to reduce the prejudices and discrimination that still weigh on the disabled.
To overcome this situation, the project involves a collaboration with the Ministry of Health to carry out awareness activities also through conferences. A series of meetings are also taking place in various neighborhoods through parishes. The goal is to pass a different image of disability, promoting the idea that those who live with a handicap is a resource for the whole community and not a shame to hide.
The missionaries have gone further. "Periodically - explains Tommaso Sartori - we organize moments in which disabled people meet with street children. These are days in which, between games, sports and recreational activities, realities come together that, for various reasons, are excluded from society. It is a serene and friendly way to build bridges of friendship and mutual understanding". "Recreation is a good moment. Children integrate naturally. Street children show a unique sensitivity. They see disabled people as vulnerable people to whom we must be close", he concludes Sartori.