Reaching Refugees with Disabilities: Hassen’s Story

After gunfire during a rebel attack in Somalia left Hassen bound to a wheelchair for life, he knew he could not let his children grow up amidst the brutal violence. Hassen remembers the exact day he and his family fled Mogadishu and the harrowing, eight-day journey to reach refugee camps in the Somali Region in Ethiopia. It was hard for them to leave everything behind and start a new life, but the conflict in Somalia gave them no choice.

Hassen has now been living in Bokolmanyo Refugee Camp for over three years with his wife and five children. He is grateful that his family is in a safer place but living in the camp has not always been easy for him.  Due to his disability, Hassen faces many challenges and is vulnerable to disease and injury – particularly because he cannot access the communal latrines and hand washing facilities in a wheelchair.

International Medical Corps recognizes the challenges faced by people with disabilities and works to address their needs worldwide. In March 2012, our teams began implementing sanitation and hygiene programs in Bokolmanyo camp through which we support 40,000 men, women and children – including those with disabilities.  Through these programs, International Medical Corps not only ensures a significant reduction in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related diseases but also reaches people with disabilities by providing them with appropriate sanitation facilities. Hassen now has access to his own adapted latrine and hand washing facility, which he notes makes a real difference in his life.

“Previously, it was impossible for me to use a normal latrine. I had to use a potty and bathe inside my home by using washing basins – without assistance I was unable to wash myself or go to the toilet. Before International Medical Corps implemented this program, different agencies worked on latrine construction, but no one took into account the needs of disabled people,” says Hassen. “Today, I am the owner of a comfortable latrine. The door is wide enough to enter, there is enough space for the wheelchair to move around, the toilet seat is high enough and I can easily sit on it. There is also a special seat for the bath in the same facility.”

International Medical Corps believes that taking disability into account in project planning is the best means of promoting the full participation of people with disabilities in life and treating them with dignity. Hassen notes that he no longer needs assistance with bathing or using the bathroom and gained some independence. “While using these facilities, I am gaining respect in my home and at the same time my confidence is increasing,” he says.

Hassen would like others to know that people with disabilities can be independent and productive if given enough encouragement and support. At home in Somalia, Hassen worked as a trader. Today, he is not only working as a volunteer for the Partnership for Pastoralist Development Association, a local non-governmental organization, but also as Chairman of people with disabilities in the camp.

“I am worried about those people who are not as lucky as I am. I hope that, like International Medical Corps, other organizations will consider the needs of people with disabilities who are in the same position as I am,” says Hassen.

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