Today, December 3, marks the 20th International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This is an area close to my heart, and one that thisvillage considers extremely important.
My Dad worked most of his life with persons with disabilities, eventually managing a region for Assisted Income for the Severely Handicapped – a government program in Alberta that provides much-needed assistance for individuals. My Mom grew up with a brother that had developmental disabilities, and this uncle lived in our home for a number of years. It was his death in late 2008 that made me want to work with this disadvantaged group.
I found work in Alberta at some great organizations, including Employment Placement and Support Services. I was at EPSS for 13 months where I worked as a Community Inclusion Specialist. It was a pretty remarkable job. I got to work with persons with disabilities, with my objective being to help them meet their volunteer and recreational goals, increase their independence and help them integrate into the community. My days were spent swimming, working out at the gym, coaching on the use of public transit, volunteering at animal shelters, etc. I saw great changes in people’s lives and felt as though I had made a measurable difference.
Fast forward a few years and I find myself still working part-time with persons with disabilities with an organization in Ottawa. I know that this group of people have major barriers in Canada, so I am happy to do what I can. But I also know that the situation is far worse in many developing countries. There is simply a lack of resources to help persons with disabilities in countries such as India. Families do what they can to help individuals, but they can only do so much. More often than not, education is not specialized for those that need it; facilities lack wheelchair ramps; employers discriminate against persons with disabilities; and, some people are simply unable to work like everyone else.
While visiting India, we had the pleasure of meeting a few individuals that had a disability of some variety. We saw firsthand the struggle they went through each and every day just to survive. thisvillage is committed to helping persons with disabilities in rural India. I believe that my experience in working with this demographic has given me the know-how to address many of the problems facing these individuals, but it has also given me the heart and determination to actually get it done. Living with a disability is full of obstacles and barriers, but thisvillage commits to providing people with the means and ability to succeed in life.
— Graeme Esau
Today marks the first International Day of the Girl–a day dedicated to fostering awareness of the value of girls throughout the world, and to thus create great opportunities for them. Unfortunately, the global reality is that girls face greater barriers than boys do; they experience higher rates of violence, poverty and discrimination. In our recent trip to India, we saw many of these barriers firsthand. We met women who had been married since their early teens, and girls who were not attending English schools when their male siblings were.
Stark gender inequalities exist in rural India (as they do across the globe), and these inequalities need to be addressed in the lives of young children rather than adults. Based on conversations with our partner organization in India, we know that girls who further their education and marry later in life have infinitely more opportunities. Instilling self-worth in young girls is essential if those girls are to be healthy and successful as adults.
As I’ve written about before, Indian widows are completely ostracized from society. The process of changing a long-standing cultural norm such as this one must obviously begin with a young generation of men and women.
The photo above was taken on our last day in India. Sara and I purchased saris during our trip, and had the privilege of getting a full sari tutorial from a group of orphan girls who were visiting the training centre we stayed at. These girls are the perfect example of the good that can come from equal opportunities. Each of these girls has been encouraged to work hard in school and pursue their individual career goals, just as boys their age would.
thisvillage believes that girls and boys deserve equal opportunities across the globe, and will be doing work in rural India to help those dreams become realities.
— Christie Esau
Ryan and Graeme were recently interviewed on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on the experience of starting a non-profit organization. The interview aired Monday, September 10. You can listen to the interview by clicking below.
— Graeme Esau
We are officially back from India! To say that it was an overwhelming trip would be an understatement. This was my first major trip, and in fact, my first trip outside of North America. I went in with as few expectations as possible, as I genuinely had no idea what India would be like once we got there. We ended up experiencing India in such a raw form, that the few expectations I did have were completely blown out of the water. Because I am an international development student that studies poverty, I constantly see pictures and hear stories about communities and individuals who are unable to break free from the poverty trap due to shortages of safe drinking water, lack of adequate sanitation, and poor access to education. To actually see the wells that people drink from, the garbage lining the streets, and the outdoor classrooms of schools, was completely overwhelming.
I was extremely humbled to be in a rural village and have individuals open up their homes to me, showing me each and every one of their belongings, asking me to sit on their beds (which were simple cots with hand-threaded boards), and telling me their stories. All my studies suddenly became real and humanized everything I have learned, simply because of the people I was meeting.
As part of our work with thisvillage, we were able to hear stories from the individuals who are deeply embedded in this poverty, and it was a privilege to listen to their stories and understand their perspectives. I now feel a sense of duty to these individuals, who were so loving and grateful for what little they have despite their poverty.
Nothing makes me feel a sense of urgency to help the world’s poorest people than meeting the individuals personally, shaking their hands, and being a guest in their homes.
— Sara Fournier