Disabilities – Are We Developing Dignity?

For many years Palms has supported requests for volunteers from organisations assisting to build the dignity of people diminished by the social response to their disability. In some communities disfigured offspring have been viewed as a punishment from God and embarrassed families wanting to avoid associated stigma have taken the option of hiding them away. With little access to material resources, programs to tackle disability may be given a very low priority, thus compounding the disadvantage.

We also need to be careful in development programs that we do not further destroy the dignity of those we believe we are assisting. Pictures of severely disabled children with missing or malformed limbs could be used to play on the pity and tug at the heart and purse strings of potential supporters of disability programs. However, embarrassment and a lack of resources do not need to be compounded by pity, which serves to do little more than create further divisions between us.

Can you assist this approach?

Images that highlight disability or poverty also work against the very approach that is required to overcome them. We all have abilities and disabilities and each of us is more responsive to development that builds on our abilities and talents rather than highlights what we cannot do. Palms prepares volunteers for rehabilitation programs that adopt this approach. So we will not shock you into donations, but hope you will assist the sending of volunteers to support such programs.

In recent years Palms has had volunteers work with a Redemtorist school in Pataya, Thailand, and Tungaru Central Hospital in Tarawa, Kiribati. Currently six volunteers are meeting the requests of three partner organisations. Three are with Callan Services in Papua New Guinea for whom Palms has recruited, prepared and supported six volunteers in various capacities over the last ten years. Two are with Ahisaun in Comoro and one with Timor Loro Sae Centre for Physical Rehabilitation (TLSPR) in Dili, East Timor.

The most recent to arrive, Fiona Cairns is working with Mt. Sion Centre for the Blind in Goroka, PNG to assist staff to adopt efficient business practices. She will also in-service, train and tutor staff in Highlands centres such as Mingende, Banz, Mt Hagen, Mendi and Kiunga.

The experience Fiona takes to PNG is multi-faceted, drawing on both personal experience and work experience as a Rehabilitation Counsellor and a Training Development Officer for disability services. She has a degree in HR Management and Marketing and post-graduate qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling.

Another to depart Palms’ January Orientation Course for work with Callan Services, this time in Bougainville, PNG, was Yvonne Dunne. Yvonne is assisting the development of a natural therapy program in close relationship with the staff of Callan Services incorporating training of local staff, volunteers and nurses in a side-by-side mentoring role. Yvonne has previously volunteered for Micah Projects, an outreach program that involves using touch therapy with the homeless of Brisbane, many of whom are mentally, emotionally or physically disabled.

The other Palms’ volunteer in disabilities with Callan Services in PNG has spent his first year assisting the national management team. Tim Cahill is training Callan staff in administration and personnel management. Graham Leach, National Director, reports favourably that Tim “… is setting the direction of encouraging team approaches.”

Cheree and Michael Flanagan are entering their second year at Ahisaun. Cheree is linking young people with disabilities into appropriate therapy services and assisting their integration into the community. Michael is building capacity of Ahisaun by developing appropriate administrative services and preparing to train administrators. The founder, Fr. Adrian Ola reports that Cheree and Michael are: “Involving all members of the Ahisaun Community in decision making and educating people to think towards their future needs.”

TLSPR is one of the key links made for Ahisaun by Cheree and arises from a Palms’ connection. Physiotherapist Louise Maher, who has built TLSPR from the ground up, is eighteen months into her placement and likely to have met planned objectives plus some by December ’06.

Belonging to a CommUnity partnership that supports any one of these placements can make you as proud as we are of the work being undertaken to build the dignity of those with disabilities.