The Creative Self Help Centre is a community organisation in Papua New Guinea supporting people with disabilities. Youth for Development volunteer Laura Carse, who is herself visually impaired, spent a year raising awareness of the centre's crucial work and challenging attitudes towards disability.
Your first big achievement was organising a National Disability Day celebration. Was it a success?
National Disability Day had always been really low key because my colleagues didn't think people were interested in disability, but they wanted to raise awareness so I asked them, "why not try?". At first they didn't believe that they could do it but in the end, the day was bigger than we'd ever expected.
We got 21 disability organisations involved; we had a bamboo band with hearing impaired students singing a song they'd written about promoting disability. We had five sing-sing groups (traditional dancing and drumming) and the local church choir. Even a local super-star called Kanege wanted to get involved. It was fantastic.
How did your work change attitudes in Papua New Guinea?
People with disabilities are wrapped up in cotton wool - "we'll do everything for you, I'll do your shopping, you can't possibly carry that bag." And that means they forget what they can do for themselves.
I wanted to get two girls who were hearing impaired on the radio, but their teachers told me, "they can't talk on the radio - they're deaf". But by the end of the year the girls were on the radio - they had signed and their teachers had interpreted for them. The radio interviewer couldn't believe it and she actually came to the conclusion herself that it's society that makes people disabled. She realised that it's not that the girls can't talk on the radio, it's a case of society not catering for them to talk on the radio. That was really powerful.
Were you also involved in work around more practical issues, such as accessibility?
Ten disabled service users and I undertook a research project, looking at the level of accessibility at 20 local organisations. We came up with questions such as, what's the floor like? What's the entrance like? What's the exit like? To start with people were pointing and whispering because they'd never seen people with white canes or in wheelchairs, but by the end of the project it was like "oh hi!". One immediate outcome of the research was that Madang market had wheelchair ramps fitted.
What a great result. Do you think the research will be used more widely?
I presented the research at the national disability conference, and the Department Of Community Development asked if they could take it to the Asia Pacific community development conference in Bangkok to demonstrate what steps Papua New Guinea are taking for people with disabilities. The research is now being taken to all the other provinces in Papua New Guinea to encourage them to make the changes that Madang province has.