By Riana Hardin, volunteer with the Community-Based Rehabilitation Program for children with disabilities in San Martín, Peru
If there is one thing that I have come to struggle with since coming to Peru and working with Paz y Esperanza is the word discapacidad. Indeed, I realize that the word cannot help but be what it is, but I cringe at the contamination that a person is somehow lesser of a human because of a difference that they had no control over. After having spent a large chunk of last semester, monitoring disability issues in India, I am well aware of the second class status “disability” carries in most of the world. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to cry out an ocean of tears for the careless discard of untapped potential and ability to contribute and participate in the human experience.
I recognize my relative privilege, as I am not only attending a reputable university to obtain a master’s degree in Peace and Justice Studies, but I also hold a bachelor’s degree, let alone, that I have my high school diploma. Within such a context, disability to me was never something of a limitation, because of the hard work of Americans, who fought to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Rather, my ability to generate change and positive impact in the world was only ever limited by my own imagination and determination. Coupled with my fortune of having a string of teachers and professors who have supported my ambitions and contributed to my growth, I have been able to accomplish much, considering my early struggles.
Imagine, then, the depth of my realization of being in a country that while having ratified such international doctrines and conventions as the International Bill of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (among others), it still has no infrastructure for providing services, promoting inclusion or empowering persons with disabilities into participating with the community at large. But this can be said of any and all minority group who is excluded from society on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, gender, sexuality, etc. Why must we, humanity, insist on participating in an isolationist perspective, wherein it is unthinkable that people holding different “identity cards” cannot possibly have anything of value to contribute to another’s cause? But I get ahead of myself.
Thus far, in my internship, I have been able to dive into the complexities of providing services and advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in schools. Since Paz y Esperanza is a decentralized organization, all offices function independently under the same mission statement. In the absence of a government infrastructure for such a purpose, Moyobamba has a coalition of different organizations, each providing distinct purposes for persons with disabilities.
Between participating in Paz y Esperanza’s “Juegos Inclusivo”, by which we play games like “Red Rover” and “Duck, Duck, Goose” (or the Peruvian equivalent rather) with schools in the afternoon, integrating able and disabled students into the activities, and conducting sight visits to communities and schools to administer rehabilitation services and educating teachers, parents, and community members of disability rights, I foresee a summer in transit to peace. How then can organizations and programs such as Paz y Esperanza use rehabilitation services as an agent for change in their policy and advocacy work?
Rehabilitation services, if administered correctly, should instill confidence into the benefactors of such services. Confidence gives way to empowerment and an empowered minority is has the potential to alter the attitude of public policy. Imagine, then, if we looked at an individual, nay, children, for we must invest in the next generation, if we have cause to hope for evolving as a society into a state where positive peace has a chance; not for their discapacidad, but for their capacity to contribute to society.
What a world that would be! I am not suggesting that any country possesses the correct pathway for such, as there is an inescapable correlation between disability, poverty, access to services and education. Laws can only do so much without diligent, civil servants willing to collaborate and listen to NGOs and nonprofits to implement and regulate such laws.
If my master’s program has taught me anything, for that matter my volunteer experience with the ACLU and other similar organizations; it is that the “International System” (one of my professors would insert here that there is no international system) is a complex compilation of actors on all different levels, each with their own agenda. How then do we create a pathway to integrate those that society disenfranchised into the policy making process to ensure inclusivity? And is such a model for change even conceivable in countries which are burdened by the stigma associated with “undesirable” populations such as disability? I look at pictures that I have taken, and the imprints that I have in on my heart, and I see pain, and suffering, yes, but I also see hope, joy and dreams of living a life full of meaning and purpose.