Zambian delegation visits MN disability orgs
A delegation of nine government officials, missionaries, educators, and advocates from Zambia in southern Africa was in the Twin Cities from March 28 to April 13 for an advanced disability leadership learning program sponsored by five local disability organizations. Arc Greater Twin Cities, the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, Fraser, St. David’s Child Development and Family Services, and Opportunity Partners are collaborating on a project titled “Twin Cities and Zambia Disability Connection,” which began with the two-week intensive learning residency and will continue this summer when trainers from the Twin Cities travel to Zambia.
The goal of this partnership is to support the Zambian delegation to be change agents in further improving supports and services to meet the needs of people with disabilities and their families in Zambia. The delegation includes Grace Banda from the Zambia Ministry of Education; Mikala Mukongolw from the Bauleni Street Kids project; Alice Kaunda, a parent advocate; Sister Joyce Phiri, a Missionary Sister of St. Francis of Assisi; Sister Agnes Daka, a Little Sister of St. Francis; Sister Namangolw Liamunga, a Sister of Charity; and friars Joseph Ntumbila, Patrick Chisanga and Deodatus Mbebe, all from The Zambia Province of Franciscan Con-ventuals.
“In Zambia, there is need for people with disabilities together with their parents to collaborate with other organizations to find means to help people with disabilities achieve independence and learn special skills to sustain themselves,” observes Brother Joseph. “The church, the medical personnel, and other non-governmental organizations need to come together in that work,” he adds. Mrs. Kaunda notes, “The most difficult part of having a child with special needs is the lack of general information and advice on the best way to help my child achieve her full potential despite her disabilities. I came here looking forward to learning all we possibly can about advocacy with disabilities and special needs populations.”
The delegation’s intensive two-week experience in the Twin Cities focused on best practices in advocacy, policies, and services. They spent mornings in classroom sessions at Arc Greater Twin Cities addressing topics such as the history of services and supports to people with disabilities in Western countries, person-centered planning, early intervention, family support, faith-based initiatives, special education, residential services, special health care needs, and employment of persons with disabilities. In the afternoons and evenings, they visited a variety of community agencies and programs including Opportunity Partners’ vocational training programs, St. David’s early childhood and family support programs, Fraser’s group home and autism program, Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Wilderness Inquiry, Fraser, Gillette Lifetime Specialty HealthCare, Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, and more.
“Services in Zambia are certainly not as widespread or complex as those in the United States,” says Amy Hewitt, Training Director at the Institute on Community Integration, which designed the training based on the University’s Certificate in Disability Policy and Services. “Issues of poverty, nutrition, malaria and HIV/AIDS are daily considerations for most Zambians. Yet there is great interest, enthusiasm and emerging expertise in relation to people with disabilities in Zambia. The time is right for a social justice agenda to bring greater attention to people with disabilities and their rights.”
Sandy Beddor, an advocate and Arc member whose family is supportive of many Twin Cities organizations serving people with disabilities, has long-standing contacts with religious organizations in Zambia and helped initiate the project, along with Amy Hewitt. Reflecting on the visit and the work ahead, she observes, “I hope we can open more possibilities for people with special needs and disabilities in Zambia, and demonstrate how just a few people with passion and heart can change long-standing attitudes of shame and blame.” She adds, “Experiencing a different approach that is empowering, and concentrating on what people can accomplish rather than on what they cannot accomplish, changes life for people with disabilities.” Father Deo has the hope that as he returns to Zambia he can help “to change the attitude of our parishioners towards people with special needs, especially to eliminate the mentality the people have which states ‘people with disabilities are the way they are because of bad omens.’” And Father Patrick adds that he hopes to “use the pulpit to advocate for a more Christ-like attitude toward people with special needs and disabilities.”
For more information about the Twin Cities and Zambia Disability Connection visit the project’s blog, or contact Arc Greater Twin Cities, 952-920-0855.