Giving to the world's largest minority

Last updated 08:40 03/12/2012

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It's almost that time of year - seasonal giving is upon us and charities are about to hit the busiest period of charitable giving.

New Zealanders are among the most generous in the world but we're not the best at knowing where our charity actually goes, particularly when it comes to helping those with a disability overseas.

According to the United Nations, 15 per cent of the world's population - one billion people - live with a disability. They are the world's largest minority. Of those, 80 per cent live in the developing world and on top of poverty challenges, they are regularly shunned and excluded from their communities.

It's a misconception that disabled people are commonly included in international charitable work. Disabilities are more prevalent in the developing world. We need to ask what our charities are doing to help disabled people.

A genetic defect, a disabling injury or a mental illness can often result in an entire family - not just the person - suffering social exclusion. You might be told that a charity has helped fund and set up a school for disabled people in a region of a developing country, but what if that school has been set up 200 miles from the student's home town, further excluding those with a disability?

Worryingly, there is incentive for this sort of behaviour. An extreme extension of cultural shunning of disabilities is where whole towns will keep those with a disability hidden from visiting aid organisations to prioritise charity for themselves.

Locals do not accept someone with a disability can contribute to their community, either. In June I met a young Indian man who grew up with polio, which resulted in years of exclusion and non-support to the point he initially wasn't allowed to attend school.

With the help of a charity he lobbied the government to get the education he wanted. Though he received an education, no employer was willing to take him on because of his disability. That left him living with his poor farmer parents and siblings, the family surviving on NZ$90 a month. Because he had a disability, the whole family were excluded from support networks in their village, including a micro-finance scheme.

With financial support and hard work at a local level he is now a demonstrator in his village for organic farming and is now recognised as an equal, someone who can contribute to the betterment of the whole village.

Imagine what other charities could do for the millions of disabled people if they worked towards having them included.

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Today is International Disability Day, and I urge you to find out what your charity is doing to include those living with a disability. Ask the tough questions, and if you can't get a straight answer, it's likely very little is being done.

Make your charity earn your donation this year.

Darren Ward is the national director of CBM, an international aid organisation focused on people with disabilities in the developing world.

- The Dominion Post


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