Enhanced to Overcome Disasters: The Story from Karambi


Josephat Muhindo (Credits: Malteser International)

“When rivers overflowed, people migrated. [Evacuators] never minded persons with disabilities,” Josephat Muhindo, the Executive Director of the Karambi Persons with Disabilities Group, recalled. “After the evacuation, it is when people remember that a person with a disability lives in their area.”

During the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the Kasese district in Karambi, Uganda, experienced torrential rain that caused heavy floods. More than 10,000 families were affected, yet during the evacuation of this disaster, persons with disabilities were mostly left to help themselves. Josephat realized that this condition was a problem that needed to be resolved.

The Kasese district has its own Disaster Management Committee. However, it has not been able to cater to the needs of the persons with disabilities who live in the district, due to lack of their representation in the committee. 

“The existence of [these] committees without persons with disabilities representatives led to poor planning in disaster risk and reduction programs,” Josephat explained. “(This lack of representation amplified) the thought that no persons with disabilities exist in the areas, hence only persons without disabilities (are) given services.”

Josephat and the Karambi Persons with Disabilities Group realized this problem and decided to take action. They believe in the importance of enhancement of people with disabilities, especially in fulfilling their rights. They also believe in the ripple effects that enhancement could bring. 

Fighting for inclusion

Lack of representation has led people with disabilities to be forgotten by the officials in their communities. Isaya Taruhunga a person with a physical disability who serves as the vice chairperson of the Karambi Persons with Disabilities Group said that, during disasters, most persons with disabilities will be relocated by their parents–as “family members [are the only ones] remember them (persons with disabilities) in times of disasters. He even added that Local Councillors did not even include persons with disabilities in the sensitization training on disaster preparedness. 

Isaya Taruhunga (left) with a staff of National Organisation of Persons with Disabilities (NUWODU) during the interview (Credits: Malteser International)

The Disability Inclusion Disaster Risk and Reduction (DIDRR) project, implemented by Malteser International and NUWODU, a national Organisation of Persons with Disabilities, worked with the Karambi Persons with Disabilities Group to change this situation. They formulated a committee of 20 people for advocacy and rescue in disaster risk and reduction. They also partnered with the local Rotary Club in Kasese, to ensure the exchange of knowledge for people with disabilities through vocational training and skill acquisition. Through sensitization programs, other people with disabilities living in the community were able to be identified. 

These efforts led the committee to secure a budget that ensures the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Local leaders also realized that their actions in the disaster preparedness committees were not inclusive. “Village committees [are] now developing disaster recovery committees inclusive of persons with disabilities,” Josephat said. 

A local Councilor from the sub-county of Karambi, Baddy Muhindo, even acknowledged the changes in the local community due to the efforts done by the Karambi People with Disabilities Group. “Situation changed. Planning is now more inclusive of persons with disabilities, so they can bring their ideas and help to solve problems. The disaster management committees now include persons with disabilities, so their needs are considered,” he explained.

An inspirational force

In the implementation of the project activities to ensure inclusive disaster risk and reduction management in the district, organizations of people with disabilities were actively engaged and became strategic partners. They were actively participating in self-advocacy training for humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reduction–which increases the chance for them to be more enhanced should they face another disaster.

This effort has also inspired some of the community members to lead their advocacy toward disability inclusion in their sub-counties. 

A person with a hearing impairment took the initiative to teach sign language at schools and hospitals weekly at the Karambi Health Center, Bwera Hospital, and Nshenene Health Center. “Hospitals, schools, and church leaders have asked for lessons in sign language interpretation to provide better services,” Josephat proudly said. “We started with health centers because they lost three people with hearing impairment to misdiagnosis and misinformation.”

Some of the health workers that are learning Sign Language at Bwera Hospital (Credits: Malteser International)

Beyond humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reduction, this enhancement has inspired parents of children with disabilities. Seeing how people with disabilities can teach other people with disabilities, gave them the courage to educate their children since they saw how strengthened persons with disabilities create change in the community. According to Josephat, it has even led to an increase in the enrolment of children with disabilities in the Kamasasa Primary School. 

Should one lesson be taken from this experience in Karambi, it is that strengthened people strengthen more people. Slowly but surely, conditions change for persons with disabilities in Karambi. Starting from being forgotten during disasters to having their representation in the Disaster Management Committee, to be able to inspire other persons with disabilities.  

Still, it is not perfect, but it is a step. Persons with disabilities in Karambi are slowly being included–one step further to fulfill what is their right.

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