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Disability is not inability; Four powerful advocates.

Being born with a disability presents a challenge not only to the person with the disability, but to the family and society at large.  Parents of a child with a disability might give special treatment to that child because they fear that this child will be exposed to ridicule, shaming and stigma.  In trying to be protective they remove the child from their day-to-day social contacts and enhance their feelings of being different.  I some cased the hostility to children with disability justifies the protective approach because the scars that could result from abuse are very deep cutting.  Some children show remarkable courage to face the world the way they are.   

This is the story of Ramatou Dan Dumo.      

My name is Ramatou Dan Dano, I am 24 years old. I come from a large polygamous family. On my mother’s side we are two girls and two boys. I am a short person and I was born with a hump on my back. I walked on all fours until I was nine years old and only started to walk when I was ten years old. From then on I asked my mother to enrol me in school. She was willing but my father was against it. He was afraid that once I was in school I would suffer because he thought that the other children would spend all the time knocking me down and therefore hurting me, as my feet were not strong. I still insisted on asking my father to enrol me. He resisted a lot and finally gave in. Then one morning while he was at work, one of my cousins picked me up and took me to school to enrol me. People around me thought I couldn’t do it, but I always defended myself by saying that I could. At first the family was too protective because every day there was someone to drop me off at school and pick me up when I got off. Then as time went by I went with my friends, even if it took me a bit longer than them to get there. Sometimes I was late but I was always accepted in class. The disability was not a reason for me to close myself off or for my family to reject me, quite the contrary. There are several dozen of us children from the same father and I am the only one with a deformity, but everyone finds each other. 

The case of Alio Abdoulaye was different.  He describes himself as a 29 years old short person with an upper limb deformity.  He is the only one in a family of nine children with a disability.  He was not enrolled in school due to his parents’ reluctance but importantly, he has not been subjected to discrimination at home is not and he enjoys the same family privileges as all his brothers.  

In some cases, the person with a disability faces challenges and this could break their spirit.  In the case of Maman Salissou Issoufou who was born a short person with a malformation of the upper and lower limbs and the only one in is family with a disability mockery and being made the butt of jokes did not deter him.  He recalls that as a child, he was sometimes mocked by others imitating his walk and his hand gestures, but that did not stop him.  He just ignored the bullies.  His disability meant that he did not attend school but he learned to read and memorize the Holy Qur’an from an early age.  

Supportive families provide a nurturing environment for any individual with a disability and Safira Chaibou, a 20-year-old deaf lady can attest.  Among her eleven siblings two deaf, herself and her brother.  She says that their parents have become very attached to them and she has never faced any discrimination at home.  She has always had her rightful place in the family. When she was old enough to go to school her father enrolled her.  

Centre for the disabled in Tibiri –  

The Center was established with support from Voice to offer vocational training to persons with disability.  The range of subjects include knitting, sewing, mechanics, motor pump repair and computer maintenance course.  Graduates of the center are full of praise for the skills that learnt from these as well as the connections that have proven to be life-saving.   

Alio Abdoulaye 

I am 29 years old and I am a short person with an upper limb deformity. I come from a family of nine children and I am the only disabled person in the family. I am still single. I did not go to school because my parents did not want to enrol me. However, I enjoy the same family privileges as all my brothers. Before Voice arrived in Tibiri – commune of Maradi, I was a vegetable seller. When the opportunity for training arose, I immediately took it. That is how I came to be trained in motor pump repair. For me it was a natural choice because the inhabitants of Tibiri also grow off-season crops and therefore use motor pumps. During this training I also learned mechanics because my trainer does both jobs. The inclusive festival project of the Voice programme has been doubly beneficial to me. Thanks to this support, I can be self-sufficient and support my brothers. My plan is to have my own workshop and be a reference in the field. I believe in this because I fight every day and I forget about the disability.  

Safira Chaibou  

My name is Safira Chaibou, I am 20 years old and I am deaf. I was born with this disability. In my family we are eleven children, two of whom are deaf – one of my brothers and me. My parents have become very attached to us. Despite my disability, I have never been rejected. I have always had my rightful place in the family. When I was old enough to go to school my father enrolled me. After primary school, I had the chance to continue my studies until the third grade where, after two sessions, I was not successful in moving on to high school. Following these failures, I found myself without any occupation. Then I was offered a vocational training course. I have always been very fascinated by technology, so when the opportunity arose, I did not hesitate for a moment. I chose the computer maintenance course and for 12 months I followed it with several other people.  Now that I have finished my training, I have already applied to the municipality for a space where I can set up my own business in the maintenance of digital equipment. The town hall has been favourable to this, and even though things are taking a long time to come together and I don’t yet have the means to open my own shop, I’m not giving up hope. 

I know now that to be a leader you have to be a leader and have confidence in what you are doing.  Those who pass by and see what I do are amazed by what they see and many congratulate me. I was the only girl in the branch of training I chose, and without wishing to throw any flattery at me, the trainer thought my work was better than that of the other two who are boys. 

My ambition now is to train young people and especially young people with disabilities, starting with my younger brother.  My family now knows that I can take care of myself because this training I received with the support of Voice has pushed me to reveal my true potential. 

Maman Salissou Issoufou 

My name is Maman Salissou Issoufou. I was born in 1990. I am a short person with a malformation of the upper and lower limbs. I come from a family of ten children among whom I am the only person with a disability. When I was born, I already had these deformities. I did not have the chance to attend the ‘white’ school. Nevertheless, I learned to read and memorize the Holy Qur’an from an early age. As a child, I was sometimes mocked by imitating my walking and hand gestures, but I ignored them. I decided that the lack of school education was not a hindrance to my professional development and decided to enroll in a training Centre to learn sewing. This did not bother me at all because as the saying goes: “there is no such thing as a silly job, there are only silly people”. I hung in there, I persevered and from being an apprentice I am now a trainer. Thanks to the inclusive festival project, I had four learners whom I trained for six months. Also, thanks to the inclusive festival project, people with disabilities from Tibiri were represented at the Niamey festival, the Tahoua festival and the recent festival in Maradi.                                                                                                                                                  

The Inclusive Festival Project.   

The inclusive festival project of the Voice programme has been doubly beneficial to persons with disability. Thanks to the support offered the graduates can attain self-sufficiency and even support their siblings.  One proud graduate whose life has been totally transformed says, ‘My plan is to have my own workshop and be a reference in the field. I believe in this because I fight every day and I forget about the disability”.   

Not only was the training imparting skills they were linked to mentors under whose tutelage they were ablto hone their skills.  “I was placed under the supervision of a master tailor with whom I learned new techniques” says a satisfied Ramatou Dan Dano. 

Ramatou Dan Dano during the inclusive festival 

Everyone knows their place and mutual respect and consideration has always been the credo of the family. After my primary and secondary education, in 2020, I was a candidate for the baccalaureate, but I did not pass. Everything comes in its own time. So in the meantime I learned to sew and knit at the Centre for the disabled in Tibiri. And it was at this centre that I met the team of the inclusive festival project who gave me the chance to perfect what I had learned in sewing. I was placed under the supervision of a master tailor with whom I learned new techniques.  

Today, thanks to this training, I am doing well and I have become a trainer myself. And even if the baccalaureate doesn’t work out, I will never be a burden to anyone. 

Building Lives into the Future

Other women and I have pooled our assets to create a sewing workshop where we teach this discipline to other people, in return for a very small contribution to buy the materials needed to learn. Personally, the per diems I received from travelling with ODI enabled me to make a contribution to the creation of this workshop. I am about to start a home and I can safely say that the inclusive festival project of the Voice programme is of great benefit to me. I have been trained and will pass on this knowledge to future generations. I am already a role model of self-confidence for young disabled people because I am able to speak up and express myself freely and I always urge them to do the same. Today, my mother is no longer here to see the fruits of her labour, but I remain convinced that from where she is, she is proud of me.  

There is no doubt that participating in these activities organized for the promotion of people with disabilities has been a new experience for people with disability, a time of great discovery, a space for exchange and of course learning between people with and without disabilities. 

The participation has been a benefit not only for the training centre that hosts them, but for the whole of Tibiri. It is an ideal setting that gives an opportunity to open up to other horizons.  When the Muezzin calls for prayers, among them is that this kind of initiative will continue.   

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