Last Thursday Mulcaila, who works with SEND, took us to the Resource Centre for People Living with Disabilities. The centre was in the vibrant, bustling market area of to the Wa. Walking in this area was like stepping into a wall of sound. The streets were bristling with life – men welding, goats bleating, women chatting as they filled up their baskets to place on their heads, children weaving in and out, motorbikes growling past and bicycle bells ringing.
Everywhere I looked there was such vibrant colour, from the piled up displays of tomatoes and bananas to the eclectic colour combinations of the women’s clothes. Colour combinations and patterns that really shouldn’t go together but somehow on these ladies, they work brilliantly.
But as I walked further into these streets towards the Centre, it wasn’t just the sights and sounds that grabbed my attention but the smell too. It’s a smell that I’ve come across before on other overseas visits. It is hard to describe, it is a dense, clinging, sour odour that I cannot help but think of now when I hear the word poverty. It is a combination of the smell from the open sewers in the street, from the rubbish lying around and simply from the fact that a lot of people are living and working in a tight space in very difficult conditions.
The Resource Centre for People Living with Disabilities was at the very heart of this market area. The people working in it had spilled out on to the streets. I saw women and men with various disabilities sitting at rows of old Singer sewing machines, stitching those wonderfully bright pieces of cloth. Inside there was a group of young people signing to each other and several more ladies weaving and sewing.
Christiane Omoh, the Resource Centre’s manager, welcomed us. She explained how Ghanian society, including parents and family, view disabled people as useless and therefore unimportant. They are ostracised and not even referred to by their own name just by their disability eg the woman with the deformed foot, the deaf boy.
Christiane and many of the others told us that until Christian Aid’s partner SEND started helping them, many of these people were unaware that they were entitled to free health care and also a share of Ghana’s Common Fund. Most people living with disabilities are uneducated, some are blind and some are deaf making it very difficult for them to hear what is being broadcast on the radio or to understand what is being written in the papers about entitlements. Because of the stigma attached to disability in Ghana, their families tend not to help or support them.
Christiane told us about the particular difficulties that blind and deaf people have. One deaf person was sitting in A&E for 24 hours because she could not hear her name being called and was continually put back to the end of the queue.
My heart went out to that woman, invisible and isolated, unable to communicate in a hospital full of people. The afternoon could have ended there with that story, but that wasn’t how Christiane and the others wanted it to be. Instead they told us that through SEND, they now have a voice and are being listened to. As one man explained to me ‘It’s not just about getting what we are entitled to, it’s about dignity and respect. Life will never exactly be easy, but we want people to see that we are not useless.’