(WCC) Fifty church development practitioners and leaders as well as organisations for persons with disabilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda met in Nairobi, Kenya from 9-13 October to share their experiences on disability inclusion in church development programmes and to explore strategies to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The meeting was organised by World Council of Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC-EDAN) Project on Disability Inclusion in Development.
Practitioners and leaders representing the Anglican Church of Kenya, Methodist Church of Kenya, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and Church of Uganda as well as the United Disabled Persons of Kenya, Tanzania Federation of the Disabled and National Union of the Disabled Persons of Uganda acknowledged that the church plays a big role in development in East Africa and that it serves as a role model to many actors including the government.
Calling on the church to lead by example, Stephen Odhiambo, chief economist, Ministry of Devolution and Planning in Kenya said, “The Government of Kenya calendar is drawn from the church calendar. Therefore, if the church involves people with disability in all its development programmes, the government will definitely follow suit. ”
There are many barriers to disability inclusion in development, but if the church leadership embraces the idea, then the barriers can be broken, participants agreed. “Throughout the project, we realised that there were barriers that had excluded persons with disabilities from the development processes in their churches and communities but the Christian communities we have worked with have shown us that these could easily be overcome if the leadership is willing to do so,” said Anjeline Okola, WCC-EDAN programme coordinator.
The participants shared stories of how inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream church development reconciled them with themselves and with the community.
“Before being included in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Sustainable Livelihood and Environmental Programme, I used to feel secluded. I could not express myself well,” said Renalda Reginald, a deaf woman from Tanzania. “After joining the programme and being equipped with tailoring skills alongside non-disabled persons, my confidence improved, and for once I felt a sense of belonging, a part of my community. I am now able to work very well with both disabled and non-disabled persons in the market where I run my tailoring shop.”
Discussing what the SDGs mean to persons with disabilities, the meeting welcomed the call to “leave no one behind,” guiding the goals and developed strategies to ensure persons with disabilities are involved in their implementation.
Finally the meeting embraced and welcomed WCC-EDAN’s new resource material on disability inclusion in development entitled “Disability Inclusive Development Guidelines” and committed to use the document to mainstream disability in church development initiatives. Even though the guidelines are based on WCC- EDAN’s experience on disability inclusion in development programmes in East Africa, the principles may be replicated anywhere else.
“The guidelines will go a long way in helping us to make our development programmes disability inclusive,” said Geoffrey Ebong, Livelihood Programmes coordinator, Church of Uganda.