Scores of activists have reaffirmed the global call for removing barriers to an inclusive and accessible society for all during recent celebrations marking Word Disability Day in the coastal village of Gunjur, Kombo South, West Coast Region.
Held under the aegis of the Trust Agency for Rural Development (TARUD) Gunjur Inclusive Project and Disability Africa, the celebrants also used the opportunity to renew their commitments to the cause of persons with disability anchored on the strong point that their "disability does not mean inability".
The Gunjur celebration that was held at its pre-school ground attracted scores of dignitaries including the British high commissioner to The Gambia, David Morley; guests from the United Kingdom, representatives of the Department of Social Welfare, and a cross-section of The Gambian society.
Addressing the celebrants, the director of Disability Africa, Ric Law, said that their initiative that started in March 2011 had coincided with the publishing of the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on disability. That report, he said, demanded for key points and actions to improve the lives of the disabled.
"I have been dealing with many disabled and had worked on many projects in Africa, but whenever I asked what can be done for the disabled, the answer I got is nothing. It is through this that I met with Dr. Nick and he told me about the 30-year link he has had with the people of Gunjur, and this how it all started here," he stated further.
Law elaborated on the significance of the day, saying that if change is to be achieved, there is the need to get everyone on board including disabled people. "I think every World Disabled Day, we will celebrate, but then another thing is what do we do to make the lives of the disabled people better? What do we do to make our society inclusive so that disabled people have a better chance of going to school, a better health and employment," he queried.
The Disability Africa director concluded by urging people to get rid of prejudice and bad attitudes which forced disabled people to be stigmatized and isolated.
For his part, the British high commissioner to The Gambia, David Morley expressed delight being at the gathering, while disclosing that he has a cordial relationship with the people of Gunjur. He noted that the day is important and worthy of celebrating as "disability does not mean inability".
He urged parents to take great care of their disabled children and make them feel like they are the same with others, while emphasising that the disabled should be given equal rights and opportunities as the able.
The director of TARUD, Sandang Bojang, for his part, gave a brief background of Gunjur Inclusive Project, disclosing that the primary aim is to discover the obstacles facing disabled young people and their families in Gunjur. The aim, he posited, also seeks to gain a sense of existing services and provision for disabled young people in and around Gunjur and to meet 57 providers, potential partner and stakeholders in the region.
Bojang told the gathering that a national survey throughout the Gambia in 1998 revealed that 47.7% of disabled children have multiple impairments, 41% reported disease as general cause of disability among children against 31% who reported that children were born with the impairment; 57% of all disabled people reported that their families decided it was not necessary for them to attend school.
The report, he said, also recommended amongst others that health, education and social care policies should incorporate a section on disability and disabled, as well as the need to decentralize the existing institutions and services catering for the disabled.
Also speaking at the occasion, a representative of the Department of Social Welfare, Gabou Jarju said the day creates awareness and inculcate a sense of belonging in the lives of the disabled people, and a platform to express what they can do. He commented on the role of the Department of Social Welfare as a lined ministry taking care of disability issues with Gambia Federation of Disabled (GFD).
Disclosing that there are 225, 0000 disabled persons in the Gambia, Jarju informed the gathering that they have a unit at the Social Welfare with a rehabilitation centre that deals with persons with physical disability.
"We have been doing an outreach program for the past two years to screen persons with disability and a way in which they can be helped," he indicated, while revealing that a Disability Bill has been drafted by his department, the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD) for the National Assembly to ratify.
The event also witnessed a presentation by Stepping Stones School students from the UK who came all the way to celebrate the day with their fellow disabled children in Gunjur. The group used the opportunity to hint that they have launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness of how the disabled community would like to be treated so that people smile at them rather that stare at them.