We Are Able! – giving voice to people with disabilities

We Are Able! is a five-year project that aims to empower people with disabilities in Central Africa to the extent that they can fully participate in society. In this project, six aid organisations from the Netherlands and Central Africa work together with people with disabilities and their representatives. The programme is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is now, during the corona crisis, extra relevant.

It is often quite a challenge for people with disabilities in developing countries to make a living. The corona crisis makes it even more difficult. Recent research by local partners of the SeeYou Foundation shows that 43% of Ugandan people with disabilities can only survive this crisis with the support of their friends, neighbors and relatives. We Are Able! wants to enable people with disabilities to stand up for their own rights and thus gain access to basic services – even in times of crisis. The implementation will take place in six countries: Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The programme is part of the Power of Voices Partnerships for Strengthening Civil Society and is granted EUR 34 million by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Left out

We Are Able! was set up by the African Disability Forum, SeeYou foundation, Leprazending, VNG International, The Hague Academy for Local Governance and ZOA. Rhonda Eikelboom, head of ZOA’s programme department, emphasizes the importance of focusing on people with disabilities: “These are people who are often excluded and do not have access to basic services such as food and sanitary facilities. They are literally not seen.’’

People with disabilities are often literally not seen"

Again, the corona crisis intensifies the negative spiral that many people find themselves in. Country Director Sophia Mohammed of Light for the World South Sudan said: “Since the corona crisis, we have seen an increasing number of cases of extreme malnutrition in children and adults with disabilities here in the camps around Juba.”

Shifting responsibilities

We Are Able! is carried out with local organisations in African countries. Eikelboom: “We have opted for an innovative approach in which the programme is developed from the outset in close collaboration with local organisations, in particular interest representatives of people with disabilities. Over time, responsibility for the content and results of the work increasingly shifts to these African organisations.” Ultimately, this work should lead to societal changes in the six countries where the programme is implemented. So that people with disabilities are also heard, have a voice in decision-making processes and have access to basic facilities.

Anaka Oskar Okello is missing his legs, but has a thriving business. Photo: Jaco Klamer

Exchange knowledge and experience

Access to basic services for people with disabilities is a challenge, not only in Central Africa. Representatives of people with a disability are also making efforts to this end in the Netherlands. Within the programme, a number of local “inclusive municipalities” and organisations such as Ieder (in) and the Oogvereniging will exchange their experiences with their colleagues in Central Africa.