On July 6, Malawi will be celebrating 50 years of independence. Yes, half a century of independence! In these 50 years, as a nation we have made many strides. Among these are the destruction of dictatorship in the early 1990’s and the infrastructural development in our cities. So far, so good! But come to think of it: As a nation, have we really developed in all sectors.
While we are patting ourselves on the back, let us not forget to remind ourselves that we have done poorly, if we have done anything at all, in some other equally important spheres. The area where decision-makers have glumly failed is in uplifting persons with disabilities (PWDs). Despite passing the Disability Bill into Law (over 18 months ago), one can hardly put a finger on any major action taken to improve the living standards of PWDs.
Having a beautiful piece of legislation is one thing and translating it into action is another. Meanwhile, unfortunately, PWDs are still subjected to stigmatisation, stereotypes, abuses, ridicule, marginalisation, harassment and all those unpalatable and negative connotations of this world.
Within these 50 years, what has kept us so busy that our primary and secondary schools’ textbooks have not been put in Braille-form? This would have made our dear friends with visual impairment learn with ease. Is it that costly to train a reasonable number of special-needs teachers? Things are changing the world over. Are our colleges and universities conducive learning-environments for students with disabilities? That again is debatable.
Others will argue that we do not have the fiscal muscle to achieve this. I don’t think so. Money is sometimes drained because some individuals entrusted with safeguarding our hard earned taxes prioritise their own interests. This is clear for all to see: our leaders coughing out hefty amounts in their quest to pursue farcical court-cases which are a sham, among other things. Can they not invest these funds in making our lives better, other than outdoing each other over political trivialities and fripperies?
A lot of money is also lost because of a few unpatriotic custodians of the national purse who deliberately throw their ethics to the dogs by creating an environment where rampant corruption and repugnant graft flourish! Right now the cashgate cases are still in court. Can we not put the welfare of the nation ahead of our own needs?
What PWDs need are not trifling handouts, misplaced sympathy or empty lectern rhetoric. What they need is permanent empowerment to live independent lives. Vocational training needs to be introduced at district level. Once they get their certificates, they should be deployed to various sectors in society where they can earn a decent living like everyone else. Deliberate policies must be put in place to make this happen! It defeats the whole purpose of vocational training if upon the completion of their apprenticeship, PWDs just go back to their respective homes, sit on their laurels and wait for their papers to gather dust!
Real meaning of independence is not just ridding ourselves of colonialists, or having our own flag. No! It also entails having a positive impact on the vulnerable groups in society.
Given the right environment and appropriate tools, coupled with a vivacious political will, PWDs can definitely be empowered. PWDs are just as capable as any able-bodied human being. It is not a mere slogan: Disability is not Inability!
Examples are numerous. PWDs have made it big in the field of science (Stephen Hawking), politics (Franklin D. Roosevelt), showbiz (Stevie Wonder) and other fields.
Administrations have come and gone with their rhetoric. For years, a lot has been said on the welfare of PWDs. The right time for action is now! Mere rhetoric will not take us anywhere. Let us show the whole world that despite our apparent financial constraints (some of which are self-made) we can turn PWDs into genuine partners in national development. In this day and age, nothing is impossible!
The author is a pharmacy technologist at Zomba Central Hospital, writing in his personal capacity.