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Refugees with Disabilities from Somalia and South Sudan Receive 2013 Voices of Courage Award
Women's Refugee Commission
Press release
Friday, April 19, 2013

The Women's Refugee Commission is honoring refugees with disabilities from two of the world's hotspots – Somalia and South Sudan – at its 2013 Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon on May 2 in New York City. The Government of Australia and its overseas aid program, AusAID, will also be recognized for their leadership supporting initiatives that develop the capacity of displaced persons with disabilities to lead full lives and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

At age 14, Dahabo Hassan Maow lost her leg in crossfire on the way home from the market. Escaping her war-torn country of Somalia, she faced many challenges in accessing the assistance she needed at two refugee camps in Kenya – standing in line for food and walking long distances for water was especially difficult. But Ms. Maow was determined. She was finally referred to Heshima Kenya, an organization that protects unaccompanied refugee youth in Nairobi. There, she founded an entrepreneurship-training program to help vulnerable girls learn a trade – textile design and production – that they can use to make a living. Now resettled in Minnesota, Ms. Maow serves as an ambassador for Heshima Kenya and continues to market her textile designs.

"My advice to women and girls with disabilities is to learn a valuable skill so they can get the respect and credibility they deserve," said Ms. Maow. "If women and girls can work, they will never be without a place to sleep, food to eat or water to drink."

Atim Caroline Ogwang , from South Sudan, lost her hearing in a Ugandan refugee camp when she was five years old. As she was searching for food in the bush, ammunition left under a tree exploded, leaving her traumatized and deaf. At age 16, along with a group of deaf South Sudanese refugees, Ms. Ogwang founded the nongovernmental organization South Sudanese Deaf Development Concern. At her organization, she currently focuses on improving access to education and employment for women and girls who are deaf and hard of hearing. Ms. Ogwang's goal is to qualify as a lawyer and become the first female Member of Parliament in Africa with a hearing impairment.

"We need to establish a foundation for the next generation of women and girls to be seen first as people and second as people with disabilities," said Ms. Ogwang. "I want to show the women and girls of Africa that having a disability does not end your life."

AusAID is a recognized leader in championing disability-inclusive development and humanitarian work. Enhancing the lives of people with disabilities is one of the priority objectives of Australia's aid policy. In addition, AusAID's humanitarian work is fundamental to supporting the broader purpose of the country's aid program – to help people overcome poverty. AusAID believes that poverty reduction can only be achieved if it reaches and benefits many of the world's most vulnerable – including people with disabilities.

"Displaced persons with disabilities remain invisible in so many ways," said Sarah Costa , Executive Director of the Women's Refugee Commission. "They are socially isolated and rarely consulted when humanitarian programs are designed and implemented. This is why we are proud to be recognizing these incredible women for their perseverance, and the Australian government for its inclusion of persons with disabilities in AusAID's policies and programs at our Voices of Courage Luncheon on May 2."

The Women's Refugee Commission's Disability Program seeks to advance the rights and dignity of refugees with disabilities. Our global research report was one of the first to address the critical needs of this population. We hold consultations with refugees with disabilities and include them in training and planning workshops for humanitarian agencies, NGO partners and disability organizations around the world. In fact, the Women's Refugee Commission has just returned from Lebanon, where we met with Syrian refugees with newly acquired physical disability from war injuries, as well as persons with intellectual disability, and persons with hearing and vision impairments. While in the field, we met with humanitarian agencies and local organizations who work with these populations to ensure their inclusion in all aid programs and services.

The Women's Refugee Commission is continuing to contribute to effective strategies for disability inclusion in humanitarian programs. This year we will be launching a two-year project in partnership with the International Rescue Committee to support the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in programs that help prevent violence against displaced women and girls.  

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 percent of any population is made up of persons with disabilities, with higher proportions in communities that have fled war or natural disasters. This means more than 6 million of the world's 42 million people displaced by conflict live with disabilities. These individuals are among the most vulnerable and socially excluded groups in any refugee community. They are often invisible, confined to their shelters, and significantly more likely to experience violence than their non-disabled peers. Many are excluded from or unable to access humanitarian aid programs because of physical and social barriers or because of negative attitudes and biases. As a result, they miss a critical opportunity to contribute their skills, capacities and ideas to programs and the community.

The Women's Refugee Commission works to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, children and youth displaced by war, persecution and natural disaster. It is affiliated with and is legally part of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, visit www.womensrefugeecommission.org.

SOURCE: Women's Refugee Commission


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