Why do organizing play a significant role in the lives of persons with disabilities?
For the members of Disabled Peoples Organization (DPO) in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, it serves a channel for them to elevate their issues and concerns to duty-bearers and stakeholders.
“We are not often heard, and sometimes, government offices do not heed to our requests, especially when it comes to calls,” Ms. Jane Macawile shares, as she recalls her experiences in following up their identification cards. “They sometimes call me Mrs. Kulit because I constantly visit their offices and follow up.”
Ms. Jane, a person with visual impairment, serves as secretary of DPO-Balangiga. She tirelessly visits key offices in the municipality to check if the list of the persons with disabilities is updated and to inquire if their IDs are already on its way. Sadly, government processes in data management takes time as the IDs and final list comes from the Central Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). She, along with other officers of DPO-Balangiga, believes that there is a need for them to strengthen their ranks in order to be heard.
This need has motivated them to capacitate their organization through the project facilitated by the Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP) and Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB). Also known as Project Elevate: Marig-on Estehanon, the 18-month project engages DPOs and government agencies to synergize their efforts and to strengthen the resilience of communities, especially the persons with disabilities.
The project has integrated components on DPO organizing and organizational building, as well as capacity-buildings on disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction. It also complements to the Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities which affirms the state’s recognition on their rights to form “organizations or associations that promote their welfare and advance or safeguard their interests…to ensure the active participation of disabled persons in the social economic development of the country.”
Mr. Mario Ellerna, a person with mobility disability and president of DPO-Balangiga shares, “the project has helped our organization a lot. In the past, non-government organization focus on barangays and selected sectors; but now, persons with disabilities is prioritized and is given the chance to develop.”
For them, the project is an opportunity to become personally and collectively empowered. “Our organization was strengthened and we learned to assert our rights as stipulated in the Magna Carta (for Persons with Disabilities) and develop our personal capacities, as well,” Mr. Mario adds. “We are now gearing towards our registration and accreditation.”
Apart from their internal capacities, their organizing efforts have also led to closer ties with the municipal government. “Because of our organization, we developed closer ties to the local government unit (LGU). Our causes were heard by the mayor and other offices,” Mr. Mario tells, and shares that the local government has allocated a part of the municipal DRRM building for persons with disabilities to meet and conduct their activities.
Still, a lot has yet to be done for persons with disabilities to fully realize their rights. “We need to strengthen our organization through organizing,” Mr. Mario reiterates the importance of gathering the widest support from persons with disabilities as well as from advocates, “and we also need champions in the government to advance our issues.”
“We can only sustain these efforts if we work hand-in-hand: government, barangay, communities and persons with disabilities,” Ms. Jane concludes.