From shame to rights empowerment: challenging the disability stigma in Karma

Sunday, May 1, 2016 - 17:35

Karma, a Palestinian village located 11km to the southwest of Hebron City. It is inhabited by around 1400 people (2007 census). Similar to other Palestinian communities, Karma is being choked by Israeli settlements, travel restrictions and bypass roads. Access to lands and water in the village is subject to Israeli Civil Administration permission and development in the village is extremely limited.

File 33847Karma village with soldiers entering, Otniel settlement in the background

The population includes a large number of people with disabilities (PwD). This is the cause of obvious distress for most villagers who expressed their concern about the lack of service for PwDs. Many have described their feelings of shame and agitation.

Mohammed one of the PwDs who participated in workshops and activities, noted: “I used to be marginalised by my family and community and I was afraid to face the community”.

There was a clear need for intervention as no other organisation had tried to address the issues related to this vulnerable group in Karma and the effects have been devastating for the whole community.

After several meetings with members of the community and the youth group that was formed there, 50 people with disability were identified in need of immediate assistance. Their disabilities ranged from down syndrome, Intellectual or learning disabilities and a variety of physical disabilities.

AAP urged the Palestinian General Union of People with Disability (PGUPD) - an umbrella for a number of disability organisations - to be more active in Karma. A series of meetings were carried out including sessions to introduce the community to the PGUPD and their role in supporting PwDs and ensuring that their rights are preserved and protected.

Other sessions were held with the purpose of raising awareness on PwD related issues: their needs, the struggles they face and above all, their right to live in dignity and enjoy a life without discrimination.

File 33848Funday in Bethlehem for people with disabilities and their family

A main theme was also the need to integrate PwDs in their community and to give them and their parents the courage to talk about their disabilities without any feelings of shame or wrongdoing.

In addition, a number of activities were organised including visits to Basma Centre and L’ARCHE with the aim of integrating PwDs in the communities and to change their feelings about themselves. These centers provide vocational training and capacity building courses for persons with disabilities.

As a result, nine cases of people with disability were taken up by the PGUPD and were included in the national programme for social protection. This included getting construction permit and other tax exemptions, free education in public schools and a 50% scholarship in universities if the severity of disability is over 50%. Moreover, they were offered a special card for the PwD to assist in the process of movement especially at checkpoints.

Six PwD were linked to other organisations while three more received customs exemptions on cars and other imported goods.

AAP’s work has left a crucial impact on the community, especially with parents of PwD. Their confidence grew and over time their attitudes towards disability changed, with many feeling that having a child with a disability was no longer a reason for shame or disregard. The stereotypical image of having is beginning to change.

One member of the community previously had negative feelings towards PwDs, including her disabled son.  She said that she had learned how to better deal with her son and now believes that, despite his disability, he can have a better future where he is independent and strong.

Another success is the case of Rania, an 8-year old girl who was linked by AAP to the Palestinian Children’s Relief. Following our work, the organisation has agreed to adopt her case and help her get an artificial limb so she can walk easily again and go to school without any help from others.

This life changing decision has brought enormous joy to Rania. In the words of Rania, “getting this new leg will help me to get along with my friends and join them when they are playing. I will be able to sit easily without needing to lie down? My leg and I will not feel tired nor ashamed’.