By David Corner, Inclusion International’s Regional Representative for Asia Pacific and National Self-advocacy Adviser at IHC.
The Pacific Disability Forum in Fiji was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in New Zealand to strengthen the voice of people with an intellectual disability in the pacific.
They chose IHC as a partner to work with them to do this and asked Trish Grant and I to facilitate the workshop that was held in Suva.
Both Trish and I are involved with the Pacific Disability Forum through our Inclusion International roles and have attended events hosted by the Pacific Disability Forum. Inclusion International is a member of the Pacific Disability Forum.
The forum was held in Suva at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel on the 4th and 5th of October this year. There were 10 people with intellectual disabilities and 17 family members or caregivers who attended the workshop. There were 2 observers from the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation and 8 staff members from the Pacific Disability Forum plus Trish and I from IHC.
The day before the workshop was held, we met with the Pacific Disability Forum staff and went over the programme with Rosie Catherine who is the programme officer for intellectual disability to see what the programme for the next two days would look like. We also helped to work on a press release statement for the media.
We also went with Rosie to visit a community hub where all the disability organisations are together in the one centre and met lots of people and saw what they do there. Then we went and visited a Special School for people with intellectual disabilities and got shown around. We met some of the people who go there and also caught up with a person with an intellectual disability who works at the school we had met at different meetings and was going to attend the workshop. Then we went and visited a hospital like institution setting where people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental health live.
We were all welcomed to the workshop by Angeline Chand, Team Leader Programs and she asked Lanieta Tuimbu to say a prayer. Joshko Wakaniyasi who is the President of the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation was a guest speaker and he referred to my statements in a speech that I did earlier in the year in Nadi” we are here. We have arrived, we demand inclusion” Joshko talked about his organisations strong support for this important work to begin to ensure people with intellectual disability are not “left behind” in the important work being progressed around disabled persons rights in Fiji and across the Pacific
Fiji has recently ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability and has an implementation plan in place.
Setareki Maccanawai, Chief Executive of the Pacific Disability Forum, was a guest speaker. Seta explained the logo and the meaning of it for the Pacific Disability Forum. It depicts waves, sun and a canoe . it means that it is easy to travel working together to reach the destination. The journey started a long time ago and we are in the same canoe and with everyone included, including people with intellectual disabilities . Working together will make the journey more successful.
Next, I spoke and reinforced that we are here and all in the same canoe as everyone else and that I looked forward to working with everyone at the workshop to support people with an intellectual disability in Fiji to have their voices heard and included.
We then introduced ourselves using laminated images of our favourite things as a way to break the ice. Then we went over the guidelines, housekeeping and outcomes for the 2 days.
We had a session about negative language and what people have been called and we reflected on how those words made us feel.
We talked about plain language with using photos and pictures as examples and showed people the pictorial agenda for the 2 days as an example.
We did an introduction to human rights with a PowerPoint presentation on what the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities mean. We also showed a video of Robert Martin speaking at the UN on how important the convention is to everyone and we did a session called ‘what are my rights?’ with questions and examples and discussions.
Safu Fakaofoan who is a carer talked about Inclusive Fiji and the history of it and some of the challenges that the organisation have faced. People came up with some of the suggestions that inclusive Fiji could do in the future. Suggestions included things like providing job opportunities, working with the education system, making government give tools to the education system, fundraising and advocacy.
We split up in to 2 different groups with parents and caregivers in one group and people with intellectual disabilities in another group. Trish took the session with the parents and care givers and Rosie and I took the session with people with intellectual disabilities.
This allowed the space for everyone to have their say on things that are important and matter to them about making rights real in Suva.
Then we all came back together and both groups presented feedback from their sessions to everyone.
We then wrapped up and summarised the day and looked at the programme for day 2 and made some changes to it.
We started day 2 by reflecting on the previous day and started talking about good and not so good support. Trish and I did a mock interview where I talked about good and not so good support.
Then we split in to 2 groups where people with intellectual disabilities did a session on choices and parents and care givers did a session on supported decision making.
We showed a video from Inclusion International on their Global Calls to Action.
Then Seta came and said a few words at the end and told everyone that this is the first activity that PDF has undertaken for people with intellectual disabilities. He talked about the need to wake up the sleeping giant which is Inclusive Fiji because they have a big role in caring and supporting people with intellectual disabilities.
Then we met and talked about planning the event in New Zealand in 2020, with the hope that a person with an intellectual disability and a support person from several Pacific islands could attend.
On reflection of the workshop it was really great to have separate sessions for parents and caregivers and for them to be able to have a say on the things that are really important to them and their family member or the person that they support.
I have to admit that I was glad of Rosie’s support working with the people with an intellectual disability and also Nafi from the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation when working with the younger people in our separate groups to help navigate the cultural differences and some translation.
I was glad that we were able to use presentations that we have created and developed in the past here at IHC. We were pleased to have input into the media statement issued by PDF about the event and I was also interviewed by Fiji TV.
This was the first time an event had been organised for parents or caregivers and people with intellectual disabilities in Fiji. It felt good to have everyone all in the same room together.
Trish and I think there is huge potential to build networks within and across Pacific countries focused on recognising the human rights of people with intellectual work across the Pacific as many people with intellectual disabilities and their families appear to be unconnected to organisations that can support them or that can help them understand their rights and act on them.