Whereas most narratives of disability in Kenya stress barriers and exclusion, some Kenyans with disabilities appear to show resilience and have stories of success to tell. Mr. Abdallah Sopai is one of the persons with disabilities who is visually impaired and has come out as a community change agent in the WASH sector in Kwale County. He hails from Marikiza Village, Malalani Sub-location in Msambweni Sub County and acknowledges that as a PWD, there is a lot that can hinder one’s participation on an equal basis with others. However, for him, he believes this is not a limitation in any way.
His interest in the sector dates back in 2012, when he was elected to Mkurumudzi Water Resource Users Association (WRUA) management committee that is tasked with conserving, protecting and ensuring efficient use of the Mkurumudzi river in Kwale. Between 2013 and 2017, he was also appointed to serve in the Kwale County Budget and Economic Forum where he chose to serve in the water and infrastructure department.
In 2016, he was invited as part of WRUAs by KEWASNET for a stakeholders meeting on WASH/WRM issues in Kwale County. In the meeting, Mr Sopai learnt about the role of WRUAs in provision of clean water, which triggered the importance and urgent need to take measures for WRM conservation. Thereafter, he committed to advocate for water, sanitation and hygiene issues and particularly how they affect the PWDs.
If there are main casualties in WASH sector, then they are the persons with disabilities. When others talk of safely and well managed water systems, for the PWDs it starts with availability, before you mention accessibility. Go to the government offices, public and private institutions, all these operate like there exist no PWDs.
In March 2020 KEWASNET organized and conducted a two-day study cycle conference in Ukunda, Kwale County. The aim of the workshop was to induct sector actors on orientation around SDG 6 and define key priorities for building momentum within Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the Water and Sanitation (WASH) sector. Among the invited participants was Mr Sopai who acknowledges that this will go a long way in enlightening communities on SDGs and strengthening CSOs to advocate, lobby and become duty bearers towards the realization of the SDG goals.
I gained a pool of knowledge on this WASH/WRM study cycle meeting, especially on SDG 6 targets and what they mean in real sense. As good practice, it would be important if both the participants and CSOs ensure the learnings from the study cycle are rolled down to grassroot communities, including targeting the vulnerable like the PWDs. Likewise, community feedback and voices of the marginalized should be captured and shared upward through the CSOs to KEWASNET.
He perceives that KEWASNET has contributed significantly in the WASH sector with notable efforts in supporting PWDs to realize rights, and access for quality and safely managed water systems. Further, he applauds KEWASNET for supporting at least one person with disability to attend and participate in its workshop: including the provision of necessary learning materials.
I have been part of the county leadership of PWDs and , from my experience, not many organizations can invite and appreciate the participation of PWDs in the meetings. Most of them feel like, PWDs are a waste of time and drag the program behind or have many demands that the organizations cannot manage.
Mr. Sopai thinks that KEWASNET has a good network with stakeholders and that enhancing capacities of CSOs is timely in reaching the local people to demand WASH services and take positive roles in influencing the leadership.
Some of the challenges that have led to low participation of PWDs are poor knowledge sharing mechanisms, lack of awareness creation as well as weak use of social accountability tools. He proposes the need to deliberately target PWDs; by walking with them in all phases of project implementation, especially at the planning stage while setting up the objectives that the organization aims to tackle.
As a PWD, I will work to ensure that all the materials and study guide shared during the recent workshop are available in braille to help support other visually impaired PWDs. I will also share the materials to KEWASNET if needed to help reach more PWDs, thus leave no one behind.
To have the right participants in such county level and national fora, KEWASNET should engage PWDs leadership at the county level/ national for better selection criteria on the participants, who are familiar and can contribute by providing helpful insights on WASH sector.
Further, to improve the involvement of PWDs through participation and decision making, KEWASNET, CSOs and other stakeholders should recognize that everybody’s voice counts, thus need to prioritize and mainstream gender, social and disability inclusion while planning on matters related to WASH, WRM and any other issue that affects human well-being.
Moving forward, KEWASNET and CSOs, should give special attention to this particular group for improved policy, legislation, and access to clean and safely managed water and sanitation facilities for all.
Featured Image Courtesy of Digital Learning