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April 2001

Video: Empowering the rural disabled

Video script

FAO : Video feature

UN International Day of Disabled Persons - 3 December

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled persons on 3 December, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (resolution 47/3, 14 October 1992) aims to promote more awareness of disability issues and the contributions that persons with disabilities make to the societies in which they live.

For more information about FAO's programs for the disabled or information about obtaining a video for broadcasting (Betacam copy), or for private or public non-profit screening (VHS copy), please contact Mr. Lawrence Jacobson, Focal point for Disability Matters, Human Resources Officer, FAO Rural Development Division.

FAO : Empowering the rural disabled: They can do it!

The traditional viewpoint, which regards the disabled as a burden who cannot cope with life by themselves and therefore must be over-protected or ignored, must be altered. It is only by permitting the disabled to exercise their basic human dignity and responsibility can their quality of life be improved.

Disabled farmers are farmers! The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which is constantly developing new approaches and strategies towards poverty alleviation and sustainable development, has a Programme to assist the rural disabled persons. Its main objectives are to promote greater public awareness of the particular training needs of the rural people with disabilities; develop new approaches aimed at more fully integrating the rural disabled persons into sustainable development programme.

In this context, FAO launched in 1999 two pilot-projects, one in Thailand and the other in Cambodia.

The Thailand Case:

FAO and Thai Department Public Welfare joint commitment to improve the livelihoods of rural disabled.

Interview Dr.R.B.Singh,
Assistant Director-general, Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific (FAO)
Speaking in English :

"In Asia and in the Pacific Region we have more than 515 million people who are hungry and it is estimated that about 800 million in this region are poor. There is a very high correlation between the poor and the hungry people, obviously, all over the world and so is the case in the Asia and Pacific Region."

"The disabled are so far unreached, we are trying to reach them, we are empowering them, we are giving them additional support to make them really become equal to others so in a partnership mode we are doing this very important task in reaching the unreached."

"It all started out with the realisation that FAO was not really doing anything to help the rural disabled in their own environments earn their own living and therefore acquire a reasonable standard of living for and by themselves..." said Mr. Lawrence Jacobson, Focal point for Disability Matters, Human Resources Officer, FAO Rural Development Division

"I discussed it with many different colleagues in various different divisions throughout the Organization. They all agreed that something should be done and that we should stop thinking of them as disabled people but rather: what can they do as regard income generating activities. Thailand came into my mind..."

Thailand has an estimated population of 1.1 million disabled people, i.e. 1.8% of the whole population, with the majority (409,000) located in the Northeast, the poorest part of the country.

Among the various possibilities, mushroom cultivation was chosen because they are part of the daily menu for people in Thailand and thus offer good market opportunities and its cultivation can be started at a very low cost while generating income within a short time.

The FAO Regional Office in Bangkok developed an innovative short-term training program (60 days) aimed at enhancing skills of disabled farmers to become successful entrepreneurs of income-generating activities, based on a multi-disciplinary approach, from production to marketing.

Mr. Satien Ratanachote
Deputy Secretary, Department of Public Welfare, Bangkok
Speaking in Thai:

"FAO has assisted the Department of Public Welfare in training disabled people in mushroom cultivation. From the Public Welfare aspect, it is very successful in term of our direct responsibility for taking care of the disabled people. The important success is that people have been rehabilitated with the skills and means to lead a better life. The training Centre has already graduated 2 groups of trainees who have gone back to their communities and started to earn their own livings and thus fully integrating in the society, thus improving their daily lives. For the quality of life aspect, mushroom cultivation has restored their self-confidence, They can stand on their own and, most important, they can teach other people within their community. This acquired ability to lead and to teach other people is an important aspect of the success of this project."

Mushrooms are just one of the many products that can be used in enterprise development for people with disabilities. This experience is replicable, and is only an idea towards other agricultural related products projects, around Thailand and in neighbouring countries.

Motivational sessions were introduced to convince the disabled as well as their families and community members that they are fully capable of accomplishing something by themselves and becoming economically self-reliant, that they "Can do" what they want if they set their minds to it. They must set their own limits and not let other people tell them what they can or cannot do.

Self-confidence and self-esteem can best be demonstrated by an unexpected outcome of the training project: some trainees got married and set-up their own enterprise after the training.

Mr. & Mrs Darat and Pramuan Kanankaeng

Pramuan (30 years old, lost both 2 legs 8 years ago while working as a docker) & Darat (lost the use of her right hand when she was 9 years old) - They met during the training, got married and set-up their own mushroom enterprise.

speaking in Thai:

"I had never thought before that I would have my own family. I met Darat in the training centre, at the beginning she was only a friend, after we graduated, things started changing and we got married. I will do my best to take care of our family, It doesn't matter how hard I will have to work for that..."

"Each person is different, whether they are disabled or non-disabled, everybody is different, with different needs, different ideas, different preferences... If a person is missing a leg or an arm, they are not missing a piece of their brain, they can be just as, if not more, intelligent as non-disabled people, and this is what has to be well understood: people with disabilities are capable of doing the same thing, sometimes in a different way..." said Mrs. Johanne Hanko, Vocational training expert.

Miss Oradee Silachai (20 years, lower part of her body paralysed after a car accident) She used to think that without legs she couldn't do anything, now she has got willpower, strength and hope. Her life has begun from zero again; she chose to remain and work in the Centre where "she was reborn".
Speaking in Thai :

"I would like to tell to disabled persons everywhere, do not hide yourselves or ignore your opportunity. Come out from where you had kept yourselves hidden. Find something new for your life. If you have kept yourselves at home before, now you should try to attend a training course to demonstrate your ability. Do not think you have no ability. Everybody has his own ability, it's up to you to decide to use it or not. Now world society has opened more opportunities for us. We should not be discouraged. We have to give them a response. The door is opened for us to enter and seek for our hopes!"

"Please do not draw a line between disabled and abled body persons. "Normal persons" also cannot do everything successfully. Some works can be better done by disabled persons. Let's give them more opportunities, let them start participating equally in social and economic activities at family and community levels ! These are Oradee's words addressed to the so-called "normal persons" and this is also the message FAO wants to launch.

The case of Cambodia:

Handicap International (HP) and FAO coordinate a joint pilot-project (funded by UNDP) that gives opportunities to disabled rural to improve their skills as farmers.

Its recent history of war, the presence of landmines, continued conflict in certain areas and the poverty of the majority of its citizens all contribute to the fact that Cambodia is a country with a high number of disabled people, many of them in what would be their productive years of life. It is thought that 2-3% of the population is disabled in this country, making the per-capita rate of disability one of the highest in the world.

As it is true for many countries, poverty and disability in Cambodia are directly linked and, disabled people are very often marginalized. As social and economic rehabilitation are closely linked, disabled people should be given training opportunities in order to become economic contributors to their families and their communities.

In July 1999, Handicap International (HP) started a close co-operation with FAO to run a pilot-project in the provinces of Takeo and Siem Reap, in the framework of the Community Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program. This program seeks to empower all members of rural communities, starting from field experiments by farmers to create a combination of scientific insights and management strategies that they use to minimise the impact of pests and diseases on their crops.

Farmers are the poorest people in Cambodia and those least empowered by "development" processes. Since many of them are excluded or marginalized from the mainstream training by their injuries or the traumas they suffered in the war, FAO decided to include disabled farmers in this programme.

Mrs. Isabelle Plummat
Country Director for Handicap International in Cambodia
Speaking in English :

"Most of the disabled people here in Cambodia are farmers, so it was quite natural, quite obvious to make a linkage between the Handicap International and the FAO Community IPM programme. Because it's giving them additional skills to integrate into the community, to improve their income, to manage better their crops and to find a kind of self-esteem."

One of the most important aspects of this programme is that it is aimed to give the disabled, through participatory experiments "doing by learning", the management of their farming problems. The training venue used is called a Farmers Field School (FFS) which take place in the farmers owns fields. A typical day involves farmers spending one to two hours in the field making observations on densities of different pest species and assessing crop conditions. Since the training is implemented in the trainees own environment, the learning process is easier, immediately transferable, and therefore, more accelerated.

Farmers are also involved as central instigators and controllers of their communities' improvement; quality of life rather that just in the quantity of crop produced is an important outcome. Community health, well being and organisational capacity of the group are valued as positive indications of success of this project.

Robert Nugent
Integrated Pest management Country Officer (FAO)
Speaking in English

"The FA0 "Community Integrated Pest Management Programme" in its activities, initiated to include disabled farmers in Cambodia because many farmers are excluded or marginalized by their injuries or the traumas they suffered in the war..."(...)

"The project focuses not just on treating marginalised or disabled farmers as special, there is no point developing special programmes just for disabled farmers. Implicitly this puts a focus on production, limited to technical delivery, you've got to look at the farming community as a whole." (...)

"In Cambodia for instance, technology is not the constraint, it's all the other factors, the inequities in the society that create problems for the farmers, so the Integrated Pest Management Project is focusing on how networks of farmers can come together as trainers, as organisers, as scientists and building on their own like skills, get involved in ecological agriculture. That model is replicable anywhere when there is a need to place farmers at the centre of the learning rather than production and technical delivery..."

The pilot-project increased the knowledge and confidence of disabled farmers and, in improving communication among farmers, reduced discrimination and gave the disabled respect in their community. The training has also provided new opportunities such as enabling them to do their own field studies, forming farmers groups and managing "Farmers Fields schools" (FFS).

Adult male amputees have a particular need to be contributors to their families and society. Many were soldiers and as such, they filled normal expected roles. When these men could no longer fill that role because of amputations, their intrinsic "value" as adults became largely eroded. Training programmes must help disabled people become economic contributors to their families and society.

Chhor Sareth, ex-soldier became amputee in 1988. He is now a farmer and lives with his wife and 4 children in Sek Year Village, Takeo Province. He was among the first group of disabled to be trained in Takeo Province.
Speaking in Khmer:

"At present, I became an IPM farmer trainer and work with Handicap International and FAO/IPM in Sek Year village. I have organised a working group of disabled farmers for self-help within our community..." (...) - "I would encourage all handicapped farmers like us to join in training courses whenever possible in order to improve their knowledge and skills in farming, this will help them to improve their family life and their integration into their community."

In contributing to the welfare and rehabilitation of rural disabled, FAO is working closer to its mandate, which is defined in its Constitution by its Member Nations who, determined to promote the general welfare of humanity, undertook in particular to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of people, all peoples.

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