Afrika Tikkun, through its 360° Social Support Services programme (360° SSS), hosted its annual Disability and Inclusion Symposium, which kicked off in November at its Phuthaditjhaba Centre in Alexandra. The symposiums were successfully hosted across all five centres, in Braampark, Diepsloot, Orange Farm and Mfuleni in the Western Cape. It brought together community members, caregivers, and people with disabilities, experts and advocates to address and break down barriers faced by people with disabilities. These symposiums serve as a platform for dialogue, education, and collaborative action, reinforcing Afrika Tikkun’s commitment to fostering inclusive societies.
Amongst the stakeholders, we had representatives of various arms of civil society, and representatives from the Departments of Health, Social Development and Education that work closely with Afrika Tikkun’s 360° SSS programme.
Speakers and Experts: Our valued experts and advocates in the field of disability and inclusion graced the symposiums, delivering addresses and participating in panel robust and vibrant discussions. Their expertise provided valuable insights, guiding the conversation toward effective strategies for creating more inclusive communities.
Community Voices and Success Stories: A central feature of the symposiums was the spotlight on community voices and success stories. People with disabilities, caregivers, and community members shared their journeys, highlighting the transformative impact of Afrika Tikkun’s programmes on their lives. These stories served as inspiration for others facing similar challenges. From these discussions, emerged action plans and collaborative initiatives aimed at creating tangible, positive change at both the community and systemic levels.
Prominent Themes that Emerged: Some common themes emerged throughout all the symposiums at our centres. These themes were centred around issues of stigmas, myths and misconceptions regarding people with disabilities. Many mothers and caregivers, including people with disabilities themselves, shared ubiquitous sentiments of being stigmatised within their communities and society. They shared their experiences of being excluded based on a lack of knowledge and etiquette by the public on how to address and handle people with disabilities.
One of the main themes also looked at interrogating and unpacking what is meant by ‘inclusion’ and what inclusion looks like at a practical level. Points were raised around how, in general, people with disabilities are not accommodated from an early stage in their lives, especially within education. Many special schools are inaccessible to a majority of people due to the high cost and additional resources needed for a child with special needs.
Consequently, many people with disabilities and special needs become excluded from mainstream society and activities. Thus, more ought to be done for such communities in breaking down barriers and enabling equal access to resources and facilities. Raising awareness and educating the public and encouraging acceptance are critical factors in normalising inclusion.
Another emerging theme was that of independence and self-reliance. Many people with disabilities crave independence just as able-bodied people. Empowering stories and knowledge were shared on how people can start where they are with what they have to empower themselves financially. One such empowering initiative is the Clothes to Good project. The Clothes to Good project is aimed at providing an alternative stream of income for caregivers. Many caregivers are unable to work daily or regularly because of the high demands of caring for children and youth with disabilities.
The Ripple Effect: The impact of the symposiums extended beyond the events, creating a ripple effect of awareness and action within the participating communities. Attendees left the symposiums with newfound knowledge, a sense of empowerment, and a commitment to championing inclusivity within their spheres of influence.
Building a More Inclusive Future: Afrika Tikkun’s Disability and Inclusion Symposiums are catalysts for change, reinforcing the organisation’s dedication to breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for all. As the insights gained from the symposiums are implemented across Afrika Tikkun’s 360° SSS programme, which is an over-arching programme throughout all of Afrika Tikkun’s programmes. It is through such initiatives that the organisation moves closer to its vision of a more inclusive, supportive, and compassionate society.