"It's good that people know disabled people are special - they have their own day!"said JRS Mental Health Care Assistant Rukia, an Ethiopian refugee, pictured right with Day Care client Pascal. (Peter Hochrainer/JRS)

Kakuma, 23 November 2010 – More than 300 refugees and others came together to celebrate the International Day of People with Disabilities at the JRS Mental Health Center in Kakuma refugee camp on November 3, one month before the day is universally celebrated. 

"People with disabilities are often found at the margins of society, stigmatised and excluded from participation in daily activities and decision-making in their communities," said Gretchen Emick, Coordinator of the JRS Mental Health Programme in Kakuma. "Stigmas about people with disabilities are prevalent in many ethnic groups present in Kakuma, such as that they are not able to manage their lives or even that they are cursed by God," she added.

The celebration in JRS’s Daycare Centre One, however, showed a different image: More than 300 refugees with and without disabilities, mentally challenged persons, parents, guardians, community leaders, JRS incentive staff and representatives of other agencies working in Kakuma refugee camp gathered.

"Dancers both with and without disabilities enjoyed the music and on the dusty dance floor there seemed to be no difference between them," said Peter Hochrainer, JRS Assistant Coordinator Mental Health Programme. 

Entertainment at the celebration was provided by Burundian drummers and Somalian break dancers, two disabled refuges performed a rap dance, one recited a poem and a group of young acrobats delighted the guests.

"The day showed that those who have a disability are people like us and they have to have services like us. Everybody was happy about it, it was a very great day," said Manyang Abiar, supervisor at the JRS Mental Health Center and Sudanese refugee who has been in Kakuma for 18 years. 

"It really changed the attitude here that JRS is working with people who are crazy or something  — it called attention to all the services JRS provides. That was the main thing I appreciated," said Abyot Athena, an occupational therapist and refugee from Ethiopia, who has been in Kakuma for three years. "I studied radiology in Ethiopia and worked with IRC [International Rescue Committee] then I came to Kakuma. They trained me in occupational therapy, then I came to JRS and they trained me in massage and alternative healing," he added.

Reaching out through services

To address the needs of mentally challenged refugees JRS maintains three day care centers within Kakuma. Forty-eight refugees trained in basic mental health skills conduct awareness outreach to inform refugees about the services, identify and assess refugees with disabilities and set up an individually tailored rehabilitation plan for each of the mentally challenged clients. 

Services offered at the three centers for more than 90 clients include breakfast and lunch, basic reading and writing skills, activities in basic hygiene, self-care, cooking, embroidery, music and sports.

Besides the services for clients in the centers JRS conducts quarterly parents and community leaders meetings and offers services for homebound clients who are unable to reach one of the centers. 

According to UN Enable, recent studies show that people with disabilities may constitute up to 20 percent of the population living in poverty in developing communities.

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