From the Field-Haiti

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Advocacy for the Inclusion of Disabled Persons in Nippes

My long journey to become the coordinator of the Support Network for Organizations to Reinforce Democracy (REGARD) in Nippes, Haiti starts with my personal experience as a disabled person. 

I have an atrophied arm, and throughout my life I have been stigmatized and discriminated against. Instead of calling me by name when I was growing up, people often referred to me as “Ti ponyèt!” (Little forearm”) or “Kokobe!” (“Cripple”). Some of them did so because they just didn’t know any better, others did so more maliciously. Sometimes people patronized me:  when I played soccer, for example, the opposing team would take it easy on me until I showed them what I could really do. Later in life, people sometimes would hold the microphone for me when I gave a speech, even though I was perfectly capable of doing it myself.

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In spite of everything, I loved school and got along very well with my studies. When I finished law school, having witnessed and endured the hardships faced by those who are handicapped, I decided to create a project to advocate on behalf of the disabled. Haiti has very few such programs. The purpose was to raise awareness in Nippes about the rights of disabled people as citizens in the full sense of the word.

Today, the Advocacy for the Inclusion of Disabled Persons Project in Nippes, which is part of REGARD’s network of programs, is supported by a grant from the Inter-American Foundation, among others. Thanks to this funding, we have trained 40 peer educators, organized four community forums, educated more than 200 beneficiaries, and broadcast 11 radio programs. The project’s current initiative, in cooperation with Haiti’s National Identification Office, is to help beneficiaries obtain their national ID cards.

In the six months since the start of the project, we have made great strides in breaking down social barriers that impede the daily lives of disabled people in Nippes. Having said that, it is clear that much remains to be done. On March 18 of this year, three deaf-mute women were stoned and killed in Cabaret under the pretext that they were “lougawou” – creatures who are human by day and turn into vampire-like witches at night. This tragedy, and the magnitude of ignorance that it reflects, bears witness that Haitian communities still need to be educated about the disabled: who we are, what we face, the respect we deserve, and our rights as citizens and as human beings.__ Jean Bernard R. Phanor, project coordinator for IAF grantee partner REGARD in Nippes, Haiti.