“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The world has changed its view on disability. In most countries, people with disabilities are no longer treated as a separate group or viewed with pity and apprehension. Unfortunately, a few countries still have a long way to go in sensitization and inclusion.
After nine long years of hard work, advocacy and lobbying by people with disabilities, disability rights activists, the civil society and the organizations concerned, Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 8th February 2016.
On February 13th 2016, a team of young people set off to Meegahakuila in the Badulla District, to conduct a “Disability Sensitization Workshop”. This campaign was part of the project titled the Ability Forum, an initiative of International Youth Alliance for Peace and World Vision Lanka.
The International Youth Alliance for Peace (IYAP) is a youth-based organization which initiates youth-led projects that promote peace, reconciliation and sustainable development. The IYAP strives to create a network of young leaders committed to pluralism and inclusion. Its projects are led and carried out entirely by young volunteers.
World Vision Lanka (WVL) is the collaborative partner of IYAP in this initiative to raise awareness about disability among children and youth. World Vision is a relief, development and advocacy organization working with children and families to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision has a special focus in disability inclusion in all its programmes.
This sensitization workshop was conducted for about 50 school children who belonged to the Child Society Club of Meegahakiula ADP. It was facilitated by a small team of WVL, IYAP as well as a visually impaired youth activist, Janith Rukmal, one of the members on the advisory panel of IYAP.
The first session of the workshop was kicked off by two facilitators, Avanthi Kalansooriya and Janith Rukmal, who spoke about disability sensitization. The session was assisted by short video clips that showed children with disabilities being discriminated. The young participants were then asked to identify the problems they saw on the clips and discuss the possible solutions to these problems.
The next topic was about “Disability Etiquette”, which focused on the attitudes shown towards people with disabilities. This session included a role playing activity that familiarized the children with the responses and reactions that make a person with disability uncomfortable.
Other hot topics discussed were rights of children with disability, a basic theoretical knowledge of disability, and a basic tutorial on understanding sign language. The young participants were very enthusiastic to learn about sing language that IYAP member, Saranya Sivasubramanium, taught them how to converse using approximately 32 signs. The workshop ended with a session on a realistic understanding of the barriers faced by people with disabilities.
IYAP youth advisor and trainer, Janith Rukmal said, “I was so moved by some of their ideas and performances as dramatic renditions during the workshop which conveyed very strong and sensible messages about disability inclusion.”
The President of IYAP, Thirukumar Premakumar further added, “It was inspiring to hear children giving solutions to the problems faced by children with disabilities. Our young audience was very keen and eager in their participation during all the sessions. Based on the enthusiastic reception of this project, WVL and IYAP plan to replicate this workshop in other areas around the country as well.”
Samantha De Mel, Protection and Disability Specialist of WVL, commented, “Sensitizing children without disabilities, is essential for the inclusion of children with disabilities. Children are the best change agents to promote inclusion within their community. WVL is happy to work with the committed members of IYAP and we look forward to continuing our collaboration to replicate this initiative.”
For more information about the IYAP, please visit www.iyapsl.org.