Learning to Ask Why
By Courtney Sanford
My name is Courtney Sanford, and my husband is Bailey Sanford, and we are Global Justice Volunteers with Generation Transformation, working in the Dominican Republic with an organization called International Child Care (ICC). During our training, Dr. Olusimbo Ige, executive director of the Global Health program of the General Board of Global Ministries, shared with us about this ministry. Now we want to share what we have learned in the Dominican Republic about health for people with disabilities and the obstacles that keep them from getting the services they need.
Courtney and some of the ICC staff members in the community doing surveys. Photo courtesy of Bailey and Courtney Sanford
We took the advice Dr. Ige offered during her presentation to continually ask the question why. We first learned that there is a law here which, similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires the government to provide financial assistance to families with members who have disabilities. There is a law that indicates that if a person is unable to walk, she or he should receive a wheelchair from the government free of charge. Buildings are supposed to be equipped with ramps. No one knows these laws even exist, which means they are not enforced. Why?
We were working with ICC’s teenage group, when we noticed that one of the girls with a disability was wearing a shirt printed with the phrase, “Coming out of Hiding.” She got it at a march advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. We asked her what it meant. She told us that in the past, people with disabilities rarely left their homes because their parents were embarrassed of them. Children with disabilities often did not go to school because they were bullied and beat up by classmates. Schools had up to 50 students in each classroom, and teachers couldn’t attend to every student's needs, much less to the needs of a student with a disability, so children with disabilities dropped out at a young age. In the Dominican Republic there is only one school for children with disabilities, and it is expensive. Families didn't want people to know they had a child with a disability. Why?
These are some of the adolescents with their promotora,
Angie, who has a disability herself. The students look up to her as a role model.
Photo courtesy of Bailey and Courtney Sanford
ICC has asked us to do a survey in the community to determine what people know about living with a disability in order to educate them about it. We have been going into the communities where ICC works and conducting our survey. One of the questions asks about the causes of disabilities. We’re finding that an overwhelming number of people believe people with disabilities are cursed. A large majority also believes that if a pregnant mother looks at a child with a disability for too long, her own child will develop a disability. Many people believe that children with disabilities are sick and that the disability is contagious.
We hope the results of the survey will help ICC to educate the community on the actual causes of disabilities. We hope that with the organization’s help people will begin to accept those with disabilities as children of God. We hope the parents will no longer feel embarrassed to have a child with a disability. We hope that parents will understand that a disability is not a curse on their child, and we hope the community, having gained a new perspective, will begin to advocate for people with disabilities, for their rights and for justice. We hope the children with disabilities will be able to improve their quality of life when they begin to receive the things promised by the government like wheelchairs and financial help. We hope, as the country grows in its appreciation of people with disabilities, that there may be improved opportunities for education for people with disabilities.
We are grateful that Dr. Ige taught us to ask why. We will take this valuable lesson with us for the rest of our lives. It has changed the way we look at mission.