An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IN Papua New Guinea, people with a disability - people like me - are marginalised and neglected. They experience misery on daily basis.
Chauvinism and poverty are the two killers of disabled people in our society, particularly paraplegics and polio victims.
Public ridicule and stigmatisation are the worst forms of chauvinism, creating social barriers that deter disabled people from exercising their freedom of movement and participating equally in programs and activities.
People make mock them and call them names when they see them in public places. Hence, in fear of being ridiculed and stigmatised, disabled people isolate themselves in the seclusion of the home.
Their relatives also live in fear of public ridicule and stigma and lock them up at home while they go about their business. They don’t allow them to take part in community activities or to be seen in public.
Worse still is the practice of keeping children at home and not allowing them to attend school. The United Nations convention on the rights of people with a disability states that “children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education or secondary education on the basis of disability”.
It adds that “persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities they live in”.
They should be given the necessary support to go to school but it rarely happens.
Disabled people, particularly in rural areas, suffer extreme poverty. Because of their physical impediments and poor infrastructure and economic opportunities, they are not able to earn a living.
As a result, they depend heavily on relatives for financial support and welfare. Many times relatives regard them as liabilities and loathe, neglect and ill treat them.
Thus disabled people are also psychologically defeated people. Rejected by family and community, they feel depressed and useless. They feel that there is nothing to live for. There is no meaning in life. All is hopelessness and bleak despondency.
Many call it quits and lose their lives. There were eleven of us paraplegics living in Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital. Seven have passed on.
The main contributing factor to their demise was self-defeatism due to misery. They did not fight for survival as they faced health problems like pressure sores, bladder and kidney stones and the other ailments that particularly effect immobile people. They simply gave up.
One of those who died was a young man aged about 30. He had a kidney stone and the doctor told him to take care of his diet while on medication. He deliberately defied the doctor’s advice and accelerated his demise by drinking home brew and heavily smoking marijuana … you could call it suicide.
Another man, around the age of 35, had typhoid, which is curable, but he refused medication. He told the doctors he wanted to die. The doctors and nurses did everything they could to save his life but he refused them and finally died. He called it quits.
The National Disability Policy spearheaded by Dame Carol Kidu during her tenure as Minister for Community Development was rendered a boneless piece of paper because there was no funding from the national government for its implementation.
The policy is now obsolete. I understand it was under review last year. How far that progressed is anyone’s guess.
The much publicised disabled people’s welfare scheme announced by Peter O’Neill in 2013 was popularity bunkum. Nothing has eventuated, while the minister responsible, Louzaya Kouza, battles family affairs and local Morobe politics and does virtually nothing for the nation.
The best way forward to address the plight of disabled people is for each province to have its own disability policy. To my knowledge, Manus and Gulf have been moving in that direction under the guidance of disabled policy experts. Other provinces should follow suit to address the plight of their disabled populations.
Only through implementing such policies will there be consistency in funding for disability-related programs and activities to improve the misery, and often short lives, of disabled people.
Otherwise the culture of ad hoc, one-day handouts and donations will continue and disabled people will continue to suffer chauvinism and poverty.