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Overcoming Misconceptions and Stigmas about People with Disabilities

It is important to enable a culture of understanding and mutual respect

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How can we overcome stigmas and misconceptions of one another?

Each week we take you on a journey in perspectives to understand a different side of what we have been taught to understand. This interview is with Msaferi Msedi of Tanzania who is part of the Tusaidiane in Tanzania

Let us start with your field of expertise.

My field of expertise is on human rights issues however I am also passionate about disabilities related issues as a part and parcel of human rights, my interest in disability rights work emerged because of being exposed to stigmatization and marginalization of PWD. I have decided to choose a disability field a life time career.

Please tell us something about yourself and your path to your present situation.

As a graduate of Masters of Arts in Applied Community Change, I have experience of practicing what I have leant through the process of working direct with my community. At present, I recognize myself as a person who is passionate about peacebuilding and human rights related issues. To large extent as I refer my previous path, I see the way education has always been an important aspect in my life, because of being educated that is why I have reached this stage of being an advocate of myself and my community.

Basically, I have a background in sociology; after completing my BA degree in 2009; I applied for a job at the national human rights institution; the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG). Until now; I am still working at CHRAGG, my area of expertise at human rights commission office is to deal with duties of a human rights officer; moreover,

Mostly, I have an experience of working and serving a Community of Persons living with disabilities. As a Person with disability myself; I am well grounded in the realities which face Persons living with disabilities in my Country; for instance there are some challenges on translating the disability related policy to action: “since what is written in policy does not correspond with the ‘on the ground’ reality.” this has contributed to disrespectful behavior towards Persons living with disabilities in Tanzania and to large extent have negatively affected their ability to move socially and economically.

Where were you when you made the choice to persue this?

I had made the choice to persue this when I was exposed to be interacted with my community, before that as a young boy aged 12-year-old in 1988 I lived an isolated kind of life and I had no idea about peacebuilding, human rights or Persons with disability (PWD) related issues; I was just Msafiri a disabled and I was stuck in an ableism society. Then in 1999 some NGOs started to operate in my home city, by advocating for the rights of PWD. I was stimulated by these initiatives; as I started to get realization concerning the rights of PWD.

Therefore, at the beginning of 2000 I started working with a community of People with disability to present moment. Moreover, in 2001, I volunteered to work with an NGOs which involved itself in a work of lobbying and advocating for the rights of Elderly people who are being killed because of witchcraft false beliefs. Additional to that when I was at university taking my BA I majored in the subject of human rights and I used to involve myself in Pro-life movement. As a proponent of Pro-life ideology; I do believe that life is a gift from God; therefore, it should be cherished. Although in practice I am aware with the existing debate and argument about issues like euthanasia (mercy killing), abortion, legal killing and others issues which present an ethical dilemma between the Pro-life and Pro-choice campaigners. In my Masters Practicum from the year 2013 to 2016 I developed an opportunity to discover a lot about Peacebuilding and stigma elimination. Moreover, I have learned that majority of People with disability are not educated hence unable to advocate for themselves. In nutshell, I have decided of choosing disability field a life time career.

What were the steps you took?

After observing challenges facing PWD I decided to use existing initiatives; that is local initiative of mobilizing people with disabilities in the area where I had been living I did this as I was aware with the fact that there is power in unity, further more when I was doing my masters research I conducted research on information technology after being aware with the fact that information is power. My main interest was to discover the role of information technology in promoting empowerment among persons with disability especially with a reference to members of Self Help Groups in Mwanza city. My research was a requirement of the master’s degree (called the Practicum) at Future Generations University. I decided to focus on that as I noted it is a successful way to empower persons with disability. The research participants included persons with disability and the dependents of disabled persons. This study focused on self-help groups and application of information technology such as mobile phones, computers, internet and use open source software like FrontlineSMS an SMS management platform that lets a person control and manage 2-way SMS engagement with anyone in the world. Considering that in Tanzania, the personal use of Mobile phone plays an important role in the empowerment process that is why I had a preference to integrate these ideas in my peacebuilding practicum using self-help groups and digital program to mobilize my community.

My practicum succeeded to highlight the importance of making changes in both mindset and practice away from charity/economic dependence on others among persons with disability and the community in general to an independent living paradigm. Basically, my focus was on the socioeconomic self-reliance and independence of Persons with disabilities however even the non-disabled were involved this comprised parents of children with disabilities for a purpose of building a sense of inclusiveness. Mostly my study investigated the advantage of using Information Technology and Self-help groups and what benefits are available for PWD as among the forgotten peacebuilders.

 


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What were some of the obstacles you faced?

The obstacles are in three level firs in Lower Developing Countries like Tanzania there are few or basically there is no person who is ready and willing to support human rights or disability rights issues using their own resources including money, therefore when I promote human rights or disability rights I can find myself dying poor economically as I do not have access to finance to enable me to do my work of promoting human rights properly. Second, according to my personal experience I have noted that the major violator of human rights is the government, therefore when I am fulfilling my duties I found being brought in tension with the government, third the community members they do not know human rights the meaning of human rights.

On the other side as I refer to disability rights promotion and protection since previous times to present I have used to face four major challenges in my career, first negative community attitudes about disability as disability is looked in charity model, second illiterate in a community of persons with disability, third poverty among persons with disability and fourth is the challenges to accessing public facilities like public transport and other public services like ATM machines among others.

Additional to that as I refer to the community I work with in general I can say I face another challenge of practicing peacebuilding and human rights issues in action, since Tanzania is one of the developing countries, it is known to be one of the most peaceful and hospitable country among African countries. However, you will never miss stranger practices which threaten human rights existence. The issue is that, many events of human rights violations are likely to be reported in responsible authority; however, it is sad to note that sometime no appropriate measures are being taken against perpetrators or victims of human rights violation. Because of that many people in the community have loosed faith with those in authority, so once they are confronted with violent actions or words for instance, they would prefer to respond by “taking revenge”. The people’s response through revenge illustrates that Tanzanian people continue to struggle with a perceived lack of options for responding to the violation of their human rights; for that reason, I developed a sense that it is better for me as a public servant to persue peacebuilding career as I have noticed that there is a high demand for qualified professional in both private and public sectors in promoting and protecting human rights using information technology.

Did you know, in advance of taking the journey, that these obstacles could show up?

I did know not that human rights work which concern human dignity has some obstacles, I did not expect obstacles, I joined without expecting opposition however when I joined it I started to realize the reality and I was aware that I have to be working with a community that is affected with poverty, specifically when I refer to people with disabilities majority of them they don’t have access to advanced technology like possessing smartphone.

Since my intention was to connect them through technology at local level while I am doing my practicum, I noted it could be hard for me to connect them through smartphones; however, I noted that even if I remain silent nothing can change, that is why I had thought that it could be a wise idea to initiate change process by using resources that I had been possessing in my surrounding. At the sometimes practicing a creativity initiatives of changing obstacles into opportunity by utilizing available success. That is why I had to take initiatives to build a network that is likely going to connect People with disabilities by using cheap method of employing ICT using MOBILE Phone, FrontlineSMS especially application of short messages (SMS) as a starting point. To certain point it worked and I keep on looking for other available opportunities of building a strong network, for instance in recent days I have been connected with an NGO which produce and distribute MP3 player’s devices known as URIDU and we are giving for free to self-help groups of women and persons with disabilities and we use available information and initiated activities like visiting hospital and participating in making environmental cleanness to strengthen our network.

How did you overcome these obstacles? What did you do?

On the side of personal obstacles, I have used education as my weapon and shield of overcoming these obstacles. Through my life experience; I have come to realize that education never only secure better future, it also increases one’s self confidence and gives ones the strength to face the difficulties of life. That is the reason why I invested my time in learning new knowledge and skills so as to overcome some obstacles.

My past accomplishments are good indicators of my anticipated future success in this field. I have decided to work with the community as well as learning from the community by using the SEED-SCALE theory, in nutshell SEED-SCALE is about people helping themselves by using the resources they posses, it describes a comprehensive theory of social change and it is an approach which consider that all human being possess human energy and it is led by four principle: – 1. Build from Success (look on the existing success to move forward) 2. 3-way Partnership (Top-down, Bottom-up, and Outside-in) 3. Decision making by basing on evidence (Decide from Evidence—The use of Power Money Dogma is not reliable answers. 4. Behavior Change- This is the Goal

By using SEED-SCALE knowledge and skills now I know well to deal with the issue of creating awareness to experts, government officials and community members is building a just and lasting change through respect of all human rights, although some people are criticizing human rights as something from western we deal with that issue through education, for an issue of finance we proceed to solicit funds from donors and different sponsors although we have failed to succeeds as it is supposed to be, therefore we are trying our best to be creative in the long run.

How would you recommend to others to persue a field similar to this?

In pursuing this filed I would recommend other to understand human rights and its importance in the development process if there is no realization of Human Rights it means everything is in vain. I should argue people to remember that in any kind of career which they are going to pursue they are supposed to realize and respect human rights in their daily routine because without human rights there is no peace and there is no development, when people or a government work in environment which is hostile even friends and investors can avoid to collaborate, as people are not certain if those in power can observe law human rights or not. Additional, I would recommend to expert and government when they deal with a certain community let us say a community of people with disability, consultation is important as they are not object but they are subject and they are the first expert, we should avoid to focus always on external expert to solve our local problem, we are the change agents ourselves we must act. This can be possible when People in local setting show initiatives of using what they have to promote changes

Do you feel there is a better way to education people on the persuit of this field
and if so, what would it be?

Yes, there is a better way through community participation and community theatre and arts like music which originate from community itself, it can be a better way to education while people are in pursuit on this field it can be perfect as it is done through practice rather than theory. As to my understanding action speak louder than word, community action are possible if people work in collaboration and avoid a tendency of competition, as competition bring antagonistic mind set while collaboration increase creativity and sustainability.

May we ask what were some of the mistakes you made and what you learned from these mistakes?

I know as human being we are not perfect, I know I have made a lot of mistake as a community member as a leader however from those mistake I noted there was a failure, therefore that experience have helped me to learn to appreciate the words of wisdom by Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) a Politician and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955, he said “Success is not final, failure is not the end, but the courage to continue is what matters”. That is the reason why I do not lose hope because of my past mistake or failure. Furthermore; mistake or failure have forced me to make a comparison by looking on the creation of God, when I look on the existing living organisms, for instance I get motivated by an ant, it is just a small insect but as human being we can learn many things from an ant. It searches for an alternate way when it meets an obstacle and it never turn back. It has discipline and fore-sight; it knows that it won’t get food in the rainy season, so it collects the food in advance in summer. Last but not the least, it feels mistake or failure is the first step of success. It won’t give up until it leaches its goals. Implying Mistake and Challenges are as essential to the human spirit as air. Without them, we never know the greatness of which we are all capable.

Were your family and friends supportive? How did you deal with this?

My plans sometimes were not accepted as I planned, I have used to receive criticism from friends and family members, to deal with them I have developed a tendency of being a focused person since I know there is no perfect ideas, even my ideas are not perfect, therefore in case I meet with a constructive criticism I have developed a tendency of using my ideas and others peoples ideas by merging those ideas from two sides so as to come with correct ideas, but for the ideas which intend to intimidate me or make me as useless, inferior and nothing or nobody person I have got a tendency or ignoring them discarding them and keep on moving by focusing on my vision.

What is different now about the field you are in?

My field is human rights as a person with disability working with a community of persons with disabilities, I see some different in my field, first the institution including my fellow staff are respecting me as a human and I seen realization of human rights for PWD is growing additional to that it has provided me with different knowledge and skills and has prepared me for the career I want. I anticipate to increase my knowledge and to strengthen my advocacy skills. I believe that this field will enable me to put into practices the ideas I have of helping people in our community to respect human rights majority of human rights violations which are happening in Africa happen because people do not respect human rights, using my expertise in peacebuilding I hope to make a different in my field of human rights as well as disability activist. Since the knowledge and skills, I possess I see they are helping me a lot in acquiring not only the technical know-how but also the mindset and interpersonal skills that are essential for a successful professional.

What are some of the misconceptions of what you do?

Because human rights are a cross cutting issue sometime people in my community see and define human rights is issue is a place of protecting criminals once you address the rights of criminals as human being, it seems we protect criminal’s offenders at the sometimes we consider the offender despite of being seen as a criminal but still is a human with the rights he/she deserve protection

Now that you have come this far, if you knew back then what you know right now, what would you change, if anything?

Change the legal system by reviewing the existing laws to strengthen and expedite the protection and promotion of human rights

Changing people’s mindset on human rights issues and this is possible through awareness raising campaign.

Changing the prevailing human rights education system to human rights defenders

How would you like to see people work better together?

If the community will build a culture of realizing respect, observing human rights we can make a just society with a culture of respecting human rights then it could be easy for people to walking together and working together as a team

What are some of the big challenges you see ahead in the coming months or years?

Challenges are inevitable, major challenges I see is that majority of people are fed up in relation to their rights violation, even issues of people desire to go to court to demand for their rights will diminish, If we will not receive fund from donors to create human rights the human rights issues will fail, donors have to make a mechanism of funding because human right promotion now is not the priority of the state that can cause people to lose hope, as a result people can adopt the cultural of silence as they consider violence is part of their life

Thank you.

Msafiri


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