A Disability Rights Champion in the Pacific
Faaolo – Mother, Educator and Advocate for Persons with Disabilities in Samoa
June 30, 2023
APIA, Samoa – Bula & Talofa, everyone. I’m Isoa from Fiji Islands, and I work at the Disability Pride Hub. I interviewed Faaolo Utumapu-Utailesolo, the program officer for the Pacific Island Countries with the Disability Rights Fund. She is a blind activist with extensive experience in disability rights, and she is also an educator. She is married and a proud mother to a son. Motherhood is her greatest accomplishment, as it has bought so much joy and pride in raising her son to be part of what she is passionate about.
Question: What work are you really passionate about and in what field specifically?
Answer: The challenge as an advocate is … trying to change the mindset of our community that people with disabilities have rights. It’s our job as a society to make sure that they achieve their rights. I work at the Disability Rights Fund, and we give out grants to organizations to actually advocate for the implementation of the CRPD [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities].
Question: What is your message to the government and to the families of persons with disabilities?
Answer: To the government, my message is to allocate fairly the budget and resources to persons with disabilities. For families, we need to create more awareness and be open-minded, also to support and understand people with disabilities.
Question: Would you be able to tell me any success stories about your journey in other areas of work as well as in your family?
Answer: I think the success for me is seeing a lot of organizations of persons with disabilities being set up. There were also some implementation works done by organizations of persons with disabilities in the Pacific through advocacy for the implementation of CRPD. My parents supported my education and since there were no resources here in Samoa, they sent me to New Zealand to sit for my university entrance, and I also studied in Australia.
Question: What is your message to the young and aspiring leaders in the OPDs around the region?
Answer: As an advocate, you get knocked down by things and you keep going because you know that there are other people with disabilities who need a lot of support and who will need you to be paving the way.
DJP Fellow Isoa Nabainivalu is an assistant project officer at the Disability Pride Hub (DPH) in Fiji. He has worked as a project officer at the Fiji Association of the Deaf, is an alumnus of the Young Pacific Leaders Fellowship (YPL), was president of the Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation youth committee, and vice chairperson for the Fiji Sign Language Committee. @2023 Disability Pride Hub. All rights reserved.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
Often dismissed as individual problems, mental health issues are societal issues, says Srijana KC, a psychosocial counselor at the Nepali non-profit KOSHISH. Growing up, KC experienced mental health challenges due to a seizure disorder. Because of discrimination in school and the workplace, she become a street vendor to pay for her medication. At KOSHISH, she facilitates peer support groups across various regions of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.
Over the summer the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”
DJP mentor Kishor Sharma is known for his long-term photography and film projects exploring community and change. Over the last 12 years, he has been documenting the nomadic Raute people in mountainous Nepal. With any project, Sharma aims to actively engage participants, sharing photography and videography techniques. In September, Sharma became a mentor to DJP fellow Chhitup Lama. He was eager to connect “this idea of sharing the visual technique with the storytelling idea and the issue of disability inclusion.”
Recent flooding in Rwanda has left many persons with disabilities without homes and jobs. “Sincerely speaking, I [am] left with nothing,” says Theophile Nzigiyimana, who considers himself lucky to have escaped the flooding. The flooding demonstrates the disproportionate impacts that disasters have on persons with disabilities, which will only intensify as climate change continues.
DJP Fellow Sita Sah interviews Neera Adhikari about starting the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) and the steps BWAN has taken to advance the rights of Nepali women who are blind and low-vision. Women with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas, “face discrimination from family and society which prevents them from venturing outside their homes,” says Adhikari. “In a household where there are two children, one disabled son and one daughter, societal beliefs often favor sending the son to school while neglecting the daughter’s education.”
Nepal has between 250,000 and one million Deaf people, but most do not attend school. In many schools for Deaf individuals, education ends at 10th grade, and higher education is rarely available and often inadequate. DJP Fellow Bishwamitra Bhitrakoti interviews Satya Devi Wagle from the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal about the strategies, challenges and successes of her work on inclusive education. “Because hearing teachers are not competent in sign language, there is no quality instruction in a resource class in Nepal,” she says. “We are working … to create a Deaf-friendly curriculum.”