Friday, 29 January 2016

The interviews

The past couple of weeks have been the most mentally-altering that I have ever had. I have moved in with a Ghanaian family and eaten what seems like dried fish carcass. But I have also conducted interviews with some of the Northern Region’s most socially deprived people, and nothing compares to what I have heard from them.
            We have conducted more than 10 interviews over the past couple of weeks, but none stands out more than Mr Bila’s. As the head of the Ghana Blind Union he is a very experienced visually disabled person with a lot of stories to tell. The most telling of which may seem surprisingly mundane to the average person: his journey to the RCWPD (Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities) where not only we work, but where he holds meetings with his Union. For me, the journey from where he lives to the Centre could take around half an hour; I might walk for a little while trying to catch a taxi and get the odd “salimgar” (“white person”) shouted at me from a shop keeper or passer by. I might kick up a load of dust into my feet and get annoyed that I’ve just showered and now you can’t even tell. Maybe the endless stream of people seemingly all walking in my way might get on my nerves. But Mr Bila has a set of challenges in front of him that I cannot begin to comprehend. He told us that it could take anywhere up to eight hours for him to get from his door to the Centre. Not only does his blindness mean that he has to walk along specific routes with the crowds that he cannot see constantly in his way, but the chances of him actually getting a taxi are next to nothing. Often the blind have to beg for lifts in Ghana, and often they do not get them. The most amazing thing however, was his upbeat attitude – even midway through the afternoon when it had obviously taken him most of the day to even get to the Centre – in the face of such adversity and after a day that would have had me on the edge of insanity, Mr Bila was fully prepared to comprehensively answer the questions we had for him around the lifestyles of people with disabilities (PWDs). It is meeting with people like Bila which shows me the work we’re doing here is so crucial to bettering the lives of disabled people in Ghana.
            I have also done an interview this week with the Deputy Director of the Metro Political Assembly. His name is Mr Mohammed. And he is also completely blind. If ever there was an example of overcoming the obstacles in your way, this man is it. He spoke of getting appointed to his current job and how the aptitude tests and the interview he needed to take were all in print, and how he learnt typing and computing to answer them, and how he must constantly stand up to doubts about his skills and experience at the Assembly. Hearing things like this from such a successful man literally changes your perception of living with disabilities in minutes. Even now I struggle to describe what I felt; perhaps it was new found hope because I never thought it possible for someone with such a disability to become such a success.

            So these past few weeks have been incredibly eye-opening for me. (Cliché alert) – They have genuinely taught me to be grateful for what I have, and more importantly to never underestimate anyone no matter how incapable they seem on the surface. As the head of the Association of Parents and Guardians of Children with Disabilities said, “it’s not all that easy… But disability is a part of life and with the right support, everyone is capable.”

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