“It’s a big opportunity for me. Rarely there were any project focusing on persons with disability”, said Jay Catalogo, a person with disability from Lawaan Municipality in the Philippines. It was his expression when he learnt about Philippines Community Resilience Program implemented by Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP) in partnership with Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB). With support from Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH), the program highlights all-of-community approach in developing resilience in Typhoon Haiyan affected areas. While strengthening community resilience towards disaster, the program also focuses on generating active contribution of persons with disability who have often been stigmatised and left behind, especially in disaster-related issue. In that regard, CDP supports the re-establishment of the Special Disabled People of Lawaan (SDAPOL), an umbrella organisation for persons with disabilities which has long been inactive.
According to Jay, the re-establishment of SDAPOL has made a significant impact on the visibility and participation of persons with disability. The organisation is currently pushing for the official release of special ID cards which will help persons with disability to get priority in getting medical treatment and to access public services. To ensure the sustainability of SDAPOL, focal persons have been appointed for each village in the municipality. As focal person for Bolusao Village, Jay even initiated a village level organisation.
On a more personal note, Jay expressed the impact the project has had on him. “The biggest help that I have acquired, from the start (of the project) till the end, is I became stronger. I became knowledgeable. I learned about the legal bases and rights of persons with disability. Before, I have limited knowledge that people like us had those rights. It is such a big help,” he said. In terms of disaster risk reduction (DRR), Jay also enlightened. “We saw that, Wow, we’re one of those who should be given priority in emergency situation. We also learned how to evacuate, whom we can ask for help, and the basic needs we need to prepare for any disaster that will come,” he said. Jay also noted personal improvement from persons with disability, “Before, we were not active. We were ashamed and did not have confidence in ourselves. We did not know the importance of our rights and the benefits we can receive. Through the project, we became more capacitated. The stigma over persons with disabilities is even starting to decrease’, he said.
More than Visibility: An Open Door for Persons with Disabilities
Another insightful story about inclusive community we heard was from Balangiga, neighbouring municipality of Lawaan. CDP team met Ardie Maraya, a fifteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. He lives with his grandmother, Flora Salazar, after both of his parents died. Ardie experienced mockery and bullying by other children due to his physical limitation. Education is another problem to him since there is no special education class in the municipality. The lack of social interaction has made Ardie shy and withdrawn. He spends every day in the house he shares with his grandmother, manning their small stall.
The visibility and participation of persons with disabilities in the village where Ardie lives is very low. There are even some persons with disabilities who are not registered in the official document, which also means inaccessible public services for them. Due to their ‘invisibility’ in the community, CDP team decided to do house-to-house visits and invited them to join project activities, including focus group discussion (FGD) and workshop. That was where CDP met Ardie and other persons with disabilities in the community. The FGD and workshop also extended to advocacy activity which allowed persons with disabilities to raise their voice and being more visible to the community, including to the government officials.
According to Ardie’s grandmother, Flora, the project has made a powerful impression on the outlook of persons with disabilities because of its emphasis on inclusion. Flora also stated that the project has significant impact to her grandson. “He likes to go outside like never before. He really enjoys it,” she said. Through joint activities, the project has also thawed the awkwardness within the relation between persons with disability and other community members, including government officials. They are even eager to urge the release of special ID cards for persons with disability through the Social Welfare Development Office at the municipal level.
In terms of DRR, Ardie and Flora have also learned to be more prepared and equipped in case of disasters. They know the importance of preparedness. “We have an emergency bag. Ardie also has a bag of his own just for his things,” Flora said, while explaining that those bags are always filled with emergency clothes and medicines. Now that Ardie and Flora are more open, they envisaged that Ardie is being recognized for his abilities, and that he can go out into the community without fear of being laughed at or discriminated.
Long roads are still there in front of Lawaan and Balangiga community to become more inclusive and resilient, but they are on the right track. Through DRR, persons with disabilities have been recognised and heard. More doors are open for them to access public services and develop their personal capacity. Last but not least, there are more opportunities for persons with disabilities to actively contribute to community resilience. (CDP Team/Edit: Rizma Kristiana)