This article has
been reprinted from the post "WHY" on our blog at
I’m often asked why I/we work with kids with disabilities in developing
countries. “There is so much work to be done in Canada (regarding
disability)”, or “There are so many other problems to address in
developing countries”, they say. Of course, they are right and
both points are valid ones. But, these statements also highlight the
fact that most people aren’t aware of the issues surrounding kids with
disabilities in developing countries. That’s why it’s become part of my
job and our mission to increase awareness and understanding of this
Let’s start with some related statistics that you’ll often come across:
approximately 200 million children with disabilities
currently living in developing nations (that’s roughly 80% of all
kids with disabilities in the world).
Of these, an estimated
95% will never go to school.
will never receive any kind of rehabilitative services or assistive
devices (like wheelchairs, hearing aids, walkers, etc.)
disabilities are considerably more likely to suffer all kinds of
abuse and neglect than their age-related peers.
Mortality rates of
children with disabilities can be as high as 80%
even in countries where overall under-five mortality is below 20%.
These statistics are very telling and very startling. Any person with a
disability (or anyone who works or lives with a person with a
disability) can imagine just how difficult life would be with no
assistive devices, no therapy, no support services and no school. The
high mortality rate as well as the increased rates of abuse and neglect
are still poorly documented and rarely recognized, yet they point to an
urgent problem that requires our immediate attention. The truth is, we
don’t have hard facts or statistics about the amount of abuse and
neglect that occurs, and this often makes the problem seem unimportant
or even non-existent. But I can tell you that the problem is very real.
I’d go so far as to say that it’s at epidemic proportions, occurring
much more often than other issues that receive much more attention (and
a lot more support and funds). So, since I can’t offer you hard evidence
or statistics to back up this statement (and since statistics are so
much less interesting than real stories anyways), below I will introduce
you to just a few children I have met over the last few years.
Sara’s mother died in childbirth, so Sonia spent her first few years
with her father, who routinely beat her. She then spent several years in
an institution before she was returned to her family. When her cousins
saw how she was being mistreated they took her in, but soon found they
couldn’t care for her and she was again abandoned. Of course, as in most
of the developing world , there were no homes (orphanages) prepared to
take in a child with a disability.
When we met Jonson, he was 8 years old and had deep scars on his wrists
and ankles from being kept tied up with the animals.
Mikel was about 8 when he was found abandoned on the steps of a church.
He couldn’t sit up or communicate, and so people assumed he was
“severely mentally retarded”, as they still call it here. At the
orphanage where he was sent, he was kept in a room (by himself) with the
door closed so his crying wouldn’t disturb others, for 2 years. Since
everyone thought he was a “vegetable”, they didn’t see a problem with
this. Turns out, he’s a very bright boy.
Cristofer was a beautiful and bright boy who loved to hear stories. He
was killed (allegedly by his mother) within 5 days of returning to his
family, following a stay a paediatric rehab centre.
Marta is 6 and can’t walk. She can barely drag herself a couple of
metres across the dirt floor of her home. Her parents are well-meaning
and love her dearly, but need to work all day to provide for their
family, so she is left alone day after day to fend for herself, with no
one to feed her, change her or to talk to her until her parents return
around 6:30 in the evening.
Harry was “discovered” in his family home at the age of 21. His parents
had left him alone for days. He hadn’t eaten or been changed, cleaned or
even changed position, and no one had come to check on him. The last
“food” he’d had was a drink of liquor his alcoholic father had given him
before he left.
Can you imagine if just one of these cases occurred in Canada, the
States, or any other developed country for that matter? In fact, I know
that such cases do, on occasion, occur in developed countries and when
they happen there is usually a huge outcry (as there should be). The
difference is that these things happen many, many, many times a day in
developing countries around the world, and no one seems to notice or be
particularly concerned. We have no real numbers to say how often it
happens, as there has been little-to-no research done to tell us. For
the time being, I only have my own experience to share with you, and
that of others who have worked in similar circumstances. And,
truth-be-told, for every story I tell here I could tell you another
dozen like it, just from my own limited experience. I really don’t think
it’s that uncommon.
I don’t write this to be fatalistic or sensationalistic. But I have seen
the unusual way people with experiences similar to my own speak about
what they have seen in hushed voices, as if they don’t want others to
know. It seems they don’t want to dwell on the negative, but want to
present the positive changes that are happening. And positive changes
are happening – I have seen some very positive changes occur in the last
8 years. Nevertheless, I think it is important we begin to speak more
clearly and loudly about what still happens every day, many times a day,
all around the world. Kids are still suffering. They are still dying and
being abused, neglected and abandoned at an alarming rate, not because
of their disability but because of lack of information and support.
So, "Why do we do what we do?"
Because these kids really need us. They need someone to step in and help
them and their families. They need someone to speak up for them and to
tell the world what is happening.
And because these kids aren’t just numbers or cases you (could) hear and
see about on TV or on the internet. They are kids we know personally,
many of whom we’ve come to love. Perhaps most importantly, we do what we
do because it’s really not that difficult to help. These children can be
given incredible new opportunities, just by providing their families
with a little information and support, perhaps a wheelchair or other
assistive devices and access to an education. I’m not saying we’ll
change the world and make it all better with a wheelchair or a workshop,
but lives can be changed much more easily than you’d think.
SO, given what you now know, I think the question should probably
be “How could we NOT do what we do?”- now that, I wouldn't have an
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