by: Raya AlJadir (@Carelessrayoon)
The BBC aired a documentary that essentially posed the question if Ghana was the worst place to be disabled through an insightful investigation by Sophie Morgan who visited the country and came across many disabled people each with a heart breaking story.
Although I was gripped by the documentary and found it quite insightful I failed to be shocked by any of its contents even the harrowing scenes of people being chained, imprisoned and labelled as snakes and animals did not surprise me. I guess being of a Middle Eastern background and having lived in the region up to the age of 9 years old enabled me to learn and witness the treatment that people living with disability first hand.
I never came across any disabled child during the period that I lived in the Middle East, I grew up thinking I was unique and special in adulthood I learnt that they were hidden away as they represented shame and a sign of failure on the family’s part; because they failed to produce a ‘normal’ child. Most often the mother got the blame as she is the one giving birth and as a result she endured a pity look from some and a superiority glance from others so hiding the disabled child is not as straight forward as the documentary shows. By hiding the disabled person, the family in some cases genuinely believe that they are protecting not just the individual with disability but the siblings, cousins aunts etc due to the fact that there is an overwhelming belief that if they get married their children will carry the same gene hence will inherit the disability.
Watching the 30 year old man that Morgan met and learning that he has been confined or hidden away at his home reminded me of my own father’s nanny who had some form of disability – until this day I don’t know the exact type – she was kept in my grandparents’ home, never allowed to leave and when visitors came she was hidden in her room as people and especially children often screamed and got frightened by her. It was just my siblings, cousins and I that were not scared by her as we knew how kind and loving she is to everyone. Her own family deserted her and never visited for fear of stigma and the shame that they will face. The more I saw of the documentary the more convinced I grew that there are many worse places to be a person living with disability.
In my view the most interesting part of the documentary was looking at how religion is used in a way that justifies all the wrong doings that people were committing against the disabled, even murdering a child is seen as a spiritual act! Religion is abused all over the world and used to achieve certain motives whether by politicians, social movements or even so called preachers, they are fully aware of how people are desperate for hope and have strong faith so what better way to gain profit and precedence than manipulating these venerable people. Cultural norms are in fact stronger than religious belief because people tend to live by what they have always known and seen and I say this from personal experience.
My parents are both highly educated – mother was a teacher and father a business man – yet after seeking medical advice in UK, USA and France with no hope offered to them they returned home disappointed that no clear cause was given and nor treatment was offered. Feeling depilated and desperate for a ‘cure’ that would enable me to walk they succumbed to the pressure of relatives and friends and began a journey of spiritual healing. I lost count of the times I visited a ‘special and gifted’ imam who recited prayers on me and the spiritual leaders who made strange and weird demands of my mother, I recall one guy in particular who heated dates and stuck them to me from the waist down and requested I keep them for 3 days and perform some sort of ritual I refused and as soon as I got home I demanded to have the dates washed off me. After my constant refusal and non-cooperation my mother gave up and we stopped visiting such figures.
When I first moved to the UK I was so surprised when I saw other disabled people complaining about life here and remember thinking these people are so lucky and don’t even realise it. Years later I have become like the people that I once thought were actually spoilt but the reality is if we don’t complain and just think ‘oh we are better than other countries’ then we will never progress and remain static while the world is moving. While it is a fact that the UK is far more advanced in the field of disability but there is no denying that recent cuts and new legislation have caused misery for many and wrecked their lives with some developing severe depression and even committing suicide which in a way is similar what was reported in the documentary; essentially the Ghanaian government is failing its disabled population and our government could be heading the same way if we as disabled people don’t keep on complaining, campaigning, reporting and writing about every aspect that limits our independence.
We owe it to the wider disabled community to keep on fighting for our rights in living life to the fullest without any restrictions or prejudice.
Photo credits: www.bbc.co.uk