Bloggers Diary : Changing Mindsets on Disability in the Mulativu Districts ( 2 days)

As we start our 6 hour trek up to Kilinochchi, I can’t help but feel a little daunted about doing four workshops to just under 100 people back to back. The EFC team had done one or two days each trip but never four. I hoped my voice would hold out. With the newly made roads and the great company of my team members Vasana and Manique, and later from Vavuniya Beulah, the journey flew by.

Dinner at our hotel was a little disappointing. I was hoping to order my one of my favorite tamil dishes, Rasam, the spicy soup made from coriander and tamarind, but sadly it was not on the menu. Never mind, tomorrow maybe. After dinner, we piled into Vasana’s room and set to work finishing off the training files for tomorrow’s sessions. Then it was off to bed for an early start to Mulativu

Date: 18th 2015

My previous memories of being in the North have always been of unbearably hot days. Dry searing heat – very different to the clammy moist conditions in Colombo. This trip though was very different. The mornings were positively chilly. As we travelled to Mulativu, we could see the cool morning mists rising from the paddy fields. No A/c on in the van this morning thank you!

The DS office that had so kindly offered to provide us space for the workshop was a smart newly built office. We were a little early ( it was 8am on a Sunday after all) so after a quick breakfast ( sadly no Rasam again), we were ushered to the conference room , a massive space with a fully mic’d conference table to seat 25 participants and more space should we need it.

Actually we did need it. Although we had 25 confirmed participants attending, 45 actually showed up. They just kept coming and coming and coming !

Today’s workshop was for persons with disabilities and their families. We decided to do this workshop because from our experience in working in the Northern Province. Many times when we had placed a disabled person in a good job we would find other family members preventing them from coming to work for various reasons. Sometimes it would be safety concerns. Other times family members would be giving poor advice to the disabled employee, asking them to demand more money, or insisting they request unreasonable amounts of leave continually. We wanted to show families how they can empower their disabled family member and help them to become an empowered and contributing member of the community.

The crowd were initially a little skeptical about the EFC. There is still a very strong dependency culture in these areas, with people preferring to accept handouts rather than go to work. One person actually wrote in their evaluation form, “Would have been nice if we got more money for coming”. We pay a travel allowance of Rs 1000 per family who attend. Add to this lunch and tea breaks and its pretty clear some people see this as a nice day out, rather than a place to learn something new.

One of the most touching moments in the workshop was when a young lady from Taprobane Fisheries who is physically disabled ( she is missing her right hand), broke down in tears speaking about how getting the job at Taprobane has changed her life. She spoke of how her family had never really given her much respect when she lost her hand, and she was excluded from many family decisions and activities. Her family also discouraged her from going for the job saying, she would not be able to work and she should just remain at home. In tears she told us how she now earns more money than any of her family and how her mother came to ask her for money for her sisters operation. Her story made a huge impact on the other participants.

In the family sessions we worked on changing attitudes and mindset around disabilities and also looked at the practical processes around getting a job, like how to write a CV, how to perform at an interview and what the work environment is like.

Date: 19th Jan 2015

Day 2 of the workshop sessions and we are again in PTK in the Mulativu District. This time the session is for District Service officers and other members of the community and how to change mindsets and attitudes towards persons with disabilities.

Manique did an excellent session on Disability Etiquette, the practical do’s and don’ts of how to interact with persons with disabilities. She went through practical things like how to introduce yourself to a blind, deaf physical impaired and learning impaired person. She showed the group how to lead a blind person. How to attract the attention of a deaf person and what the politically correct terms were when talking about persons with disabilities.

We were keen to use the lovely big space we had at the DS Office, so on the spur of the moment, we decided that the sessions on the Models of Disability should be very interactive. First we explained each of the models:

The Traditional Model is where society thinks a person is cursed or has sinned and that is why they are disabled. In many traditional communities people are cast out or shut away just forbeing disabled.

As civilizations developed, traditional attitudes changed and the medical model was born but this also saw persons with disabilities as “not normal” and felt that such people could not function in everyday life so had to be put in “special schools and homes” away from society.

The Social Model was developed as part of the Disability Rights Movement which started in the 70’s. Here disabled persons claimed their place in society as human beings with rights. They stated that if they did not have reasonable access to the same facilities as the rest of a community, access to education, healthcare, job opportunities, etc, then the problem lay not with the person but with the society itself.

Once we’d explained these, the team thoroughly embarrassed themselves, by performing a small play. The first showed Vasana, as a new mother nursing her new baby which had a disability. We used a handbag as the baby! Manique and I were her friends coming to visit her and her new baby. When she eard the knock on the door, she hides the baby and tells us she had a miscarriage. She does not show us the child even though we insist we saw her with it. When we leave we don’t believe her and we assume there is something “wrong” with the child. We say she has been punished by God for having too many boyfriends when she was young.

[Pic to be inserted here from Maniques batch]

We then asked the participants to identity which model we were acting out and then to perform a play showing how the characters would act in the social model.

The second play we performed showed the medical model. I played a doctor in his surgery and Vasana was a worried mother with her child who was being disruptive I at school. After examining the naughty girl ( played by Manique – who was actually very naughty – she threw the table cloth over my head and jiggled about in chair so much I thought she’d fall off ! It was an Oscar-winning performance!), I concluded that she was learning impaired and that she should be removed from school and put in a special school for her kind. I also told the mother to sterilize herself this was a genetic condition and as she should have no more children or they would be the same.

[Pic to be inserted here from Maniques batch]

Again we asked the group to identify the model and carry out the same scenario applying the social model. Again we got some award winning performances from participants and the laughter and involvement from the whole group made this way of learning far more engaging than a boring PowerPoint lecture.

Many of the group said afterwards, they had never been to such a workshop and performing the plays really helped them understand how attitudes can be changed in society in very practical real life ways. That’s a good result I think!

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