Disability Stakeholders Come Together in the Philippines

Sylvia Vriesendorp

Principal Technical Advisor for Leadership

Participants in the National Training on Wheelchair Basic Level in Manila, Philippines.

Participants in the National Training on Wheelchair Basic Level in Manila, Philippines. Photo: MSH Staff

Sama-sama is the Filipino expression for working together. This is no small feat when you don’t know each other, compete with each other or live day trips away from each other. But this is exactly what happened in Manila in March 2014 when stakeholders including advocates for persons with disabilities (wheelchair users, providers, rehabilitation experts, manufacturers and distributors of wheelchairs, academic institutions and government agencies) got together to find a way to realize their common goal: bring disabled Filipinos into the mainstream by facilitating access to quality mobility products and services, access to buildings, to employment, education and anything else that able bodied Filipinos may take for granted.

Although the Philippines has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the reality of full inclusion of disabled people in Filipino society is still a long way off, especially for those who are poor and/or live far from urban centers on this archipelago of large and far-flung islands.

With funding from USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA), the Leadership, Management and Governance (LMG) Project has brought together these key disability stakeholders who are tasked with capacity building and policy making. One particular group of stakeholders, persons with disabilities, was well represented..  

Together, they reviewed a situational analysis to arrive at a common understanding of the current situation in the Philippines. Stories about positive experiences from clients, providers, technicians, manufacturers or government officials illustrated what was possible already in the Philippines. This raised the energy of the group and replaced the somber outlook of the current situation with hope, and a belief that change was possible.

Imagining their ultimate goal realized in the year 2020, small groups created scenarios on how they arrived at their goal showing the road they had taken since they got together in March 2014. The scenarios were acted out most creatively in songs, skits, interviews and life stories, or presented as posters.

Several broad themes emerged from these scenarios. Groups formed based upon passion, expertise, or both to plan the way forward in the immediate future with respect to:

  • Standard setting for wheelchair services & products
  • Capacity building
  • Law implementation
  • Advocacy at the LGU level
  • Funding and sustainability
  • Information, education & awareness
  • Empowerment of persons with disabilities to take on leadership roles

People were eager to step forward and take on the role of champion for the various initiatives, and others were eager to support them in task teams. Dates for initial meetings were set and new ideas about cooperation and collaboration bubbled up everywhere.

Keeping the momentum of these high-energy days will be a challenge as people return to the various corners of the Philippines. Yet the commitment is there. As the chief of the National Council on Disability Affairs, Carmen Reyes-Zubiaga said, “Whether you like it or not, we are stuck with you and you are stuck with us—we will move forward together because any of us alone cannot accomplish what we need to do.” And Carmen knows about pursuing a vision; a wheelchair user herself, she followed her dream and was able to align and mobilize many others along the way to influence access to appropriate wheelchairs. Sama-sama indeed.

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