Posted on September 19, 2018
By, Cynthia Bauer, Kupenda’s Founder and Executive Director
Kupenda has a global vision to benefit the millions of people with disabilities in low-income countries through the provision of resources and training to organizations already involved with local people. The hope is that they can replicate our work and proactively ensure that children with disabilities have access to community, education, and medical services.
One month ago today, Leonard, our Kenya director, and I took off for Sierra Leone where we conducted a one-week disability theology workshop with 50+ pastors and teachers at the invitation of The International Theology Education Network. We also worked closely with Edunations, an organization with 13 schools in rural areas of Sierra Leone supporting more than 2,000 students. Additionally, our work was informed and enhanced by Enable the Children, which operates out of Freetown to support hundreds of children with disabilities with education, therapy services, and advocacy.
In Sierra Leone child mortality rates and levels of superstitious beliefs surrounding disability are extremely high. For example, untreated infections that damage the brain can cause seizure disorders; since infections often go untreated in impoverished areas of Sierra Leone, epilepsy rates are high. One boy we met with epilepsy was left on the ground for 3 days with no food or water after he’d had a seizure because everyone believed that was when the demons were upon him.
The pastors and teachers participating in our workshop on disabilities focused on challenging the superstitious beliefs that result in neglect, abuse, and even murder of children with disabilities in Sierra Leone. What we experienced in these workshops was similar to our experiences with leaders in Kenya: many participants believed disabilities were caused by demons, witchcraft, or curses. After our workshop was over they not only denounced these beliefs but also formed specific action plans for their communities to include families impacted by disabilities.
The video below was taken at the end of our workshop when the facilitator asked the participants to denounce the belief that disabilities are caused by curses, witchcraft, demons, etc. by tearing up pieces of paper where these words were written. It was emotionally powerful to see this demonstration of their transformation.