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Disability knows no boundaries

Institute on Community Integration staff traveled to Zambia to continue the work of the Twin Cities-Zambia Disability Connection

By Matthew Bogenschutz

Zambia 165
Left to right: Nord, Hamre, Liamunga, Mukongolwa, and Bogenschutz outside the School of Education, University of Zambia

September 29, 2009

This summer, Institute on Community Integration (ICI) staff members Matthew Bogenschutz, Derek Nord, and Kristin Hamre traveled to Zambia.

They went there to continue the work of the Twin Cities-Zambia Disability Connection, a partnership between ICI and four Twin Cities organizations that is providing leadership training in disability advocacy, policy, and services to government officials, missionaries, educators, and advocates in Zambia.

For nearly three weeks, from August 14 until September 2, the group traveled around the country delivering training and conversing with various stakeholders interested in improving the status of children and adults with disabilities.

The trip was the third to Zambia by ICI staff. With a stable government, emerging disability advocacy groups, and national-level policy supporting the rights of people with disabilities, Zambia has come to a point where disability rights may be pushed as a national priority.

The focus of this third trip was to train educators, government officials, parents, and self-advocates on the importance of including individuals with disabilities in all aspects of daily life, with the hope of building grassroots leadership to help Zambians with disabilities gain a greater sense of belonging in their communities.

“The training allows us to connect with people with disabilities, parents, and professionals throughout country, but more importantly, these groups were able to connect with each other,” says Nord. Demonstrations and access to online training for direct care were offered to several groups.

While in Zambia, Bogenschutz, Nord, and Hamre worked with self-advocates, parent advocates, and leaders from educational and faith communities in advocacy and capacity-building trainings. They met with faculty and students at the University of Zambia and the Zambia Institute for Special Education, as well as two special education teacher groups, and several advocacy organizations. They also met with ministry of education officials in Kitwe and at the country’s largest hospital, where they discovered new project partners.

On the eve of their departure from Zambia, their work culminated with an interview on disability issues on one of the local radio stations, Radio Mosi O Tunya (dubbed "radio that thunders"), which reaches about 65,000 listeners.

Bogenschutz, Nord, and Hamre saw firsthand the impact of the intensive training that was provided by ICI and the other project partners (Arc Greater Twin Cities, Fraser, St. David’s Child Development and Family Services, and Opportunity Partners) to a Zambian delegation who visited Minnesota in the spring of 2008. “The energy of the leaders we met was amazing, and their commitment will help build relationships that will help people with disabilities throughout the country,” says Hamre.

The disability movement in Zambia is new, disability is still stigmatized, and many people with disabilities are not afforded the opportunity to participate in daily life in their communities. But progress continues as awareness grows. “The time seems right to push for better human rights for people with disabilities in Zambia, and I’m very hopeful that ICI’s work has helped in some small way to add awareness and equip leaders who can continue a uniquely Zambian disability rights movement,” Bogenschutz says.

For more information, visit the project's blog, e-mail Matthew Bogenschutz, or call 612-625-0171.