Skip to main content
Ruby stands in front of greenery and looks at the camera.
Photo credit: Sophia Paffenroth


From Stage to Society

DJP Fellow Terubeimoa (Ruby) Nabetari Takes Center Stage in Driving Meaningful Social Change in Kiribati

July 2, 2023

APIA, Samoa – Terubeimoa Nabetari, or “Ruby” as she is known by her friends and family, has been using the skills she learned as a composer of music and drama to help her organization, Te Toa Matoa, get their messages across about the rights of persons with disabilities in Kiribati. She is an officer for a program through Te Toa Matoa that works to build the capacity of persons with disabilities in her country. Her dream is for her government to include and prioritize people with disabilities when creating new policies and laws on issues like responses to climate change and plans for new infrastructure.

Question: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you acquired your disability.

Answer: I am a mother and grandmother with five children and seven grandchildren. Before I became a disabled woman, I was well-known for my talents in composing music and drama. I acquired my disability in 2002 due to an accident, and in 2016, it got worse when I couldn’t walk and the doctor told me that something was wrong with my back.

Question: How did becoming disabled make you feel and what support did you get from those around you?

Answer: I felt sad and confused, and I felt that I had no more capacity and ability to do things, especially because I was well-known as a person who composed music and drama in my country. When people saw me using my crutches, they asked what happened and how I [acquired my disability], and I just wanted them to get away from me. However, support came from members of Te Toa Matoa, the umbrella organization for people with disabilities in Kiribati, as I had worked with them before I became disabled.

They kept calling and inviting me to visit their organization, even though I didn’t want anything to do with them. But as time went on, I thanked God that I changed my mind and started to realize what I have to offer people with disabilities in my work composing music and drama. Support also came from my husband who told me that being disabled is not the problem but that a person with my talents was needed, especially by organizations for persons with disabilities and women and youth organizations. I also get support from my children and family, as they are always there for me.

Question: Give one example of how you used your talents to help your organization.

Answer: I have been helping our organization Te Toa Matoa to produce awareness dramas and films on the different services provided by different government ministries. They give us their key messages, and I produce a story and help the members to perform their different roles. During one year, we did an awareness film on how to protect people from tuberculosis.

Question: In your work as a project officer for Te Toa Matoa, what are some issues being faced by people with disabilities in Kiribati and how are they being addressed?

Answer: Safe and clean drinking water isn’t available at times during flooding caused by climate change, so we have to buy and save bottled water for drinking and washing because water from the well and rainwater from tanks can become unsafe and can affect the health of all, including women with disabilities. Other issues include the need for accessible infrastructure, such as an accessible courthouse for wheelchair users, accessible early warning systems that are accessible to Deaf people and accessible healthcare for all, including persons with disabilities. These issues are addressed through collaborative projects with the Disability Rights Fund and relevant government ministries.

Question: Why is the DJP workshop important for you and your organization?

This is very important because it can help us to be visible to the public, and I think if we produce our film ourselves, our people are aware of what people with disabilities need and how they feel.

DJP Fellow Ari Hazelman is the disability inclusive officer for the Samoa Blind Persons Association, (SBPA), the only association in Samoa that deals with issues affecting blind and visually impaired people. Hazelman works with the SBPA’s Braille unit and is involved in the organization’s advocacy efforts. @2023 SBPA. All rights reserved.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

Srijana KC smiles at the camera. She has long dark hair and is wearing a red scarf and green cardigan sweater.

Voices Unsilenced

Often dismissed as a personal concern, mental health is a societal issue, according to Srijana KC, who works as a psychosocial counselor for the Nepali organization KOSHISH. KC’s own history includes a seizure disorder, which resulted in mental health challenges. She faced prejudice in both educational settings and the workplace, which pushed her towards becoming a street vendor to afford her medications. Now with KOSHISH, she coordinates peer support gatherings in different parts of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.

Read more about Voices Unsilenced

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Last 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.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Sharma sits next to one of his subjects - a man from the nomadic Raute people.

Beyond the Frame

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.”

Read more about Beyond the Frame

Thacien Nzigiyimana stands in front of rubble outside one-story stone buildings.

‘I Am Left With Nothing’

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.

Read more about ‘I Am Left With Nothing’

Neera Adhikari types on a computer at her desk.

‘Leadership Training is a Key Focus’

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.”

Read more about ‘Leadership Training is a Key Focus’

Satya Devi Wagle sits at her desk, signing papers.

Accessible Instruction

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.”

Read more about Accessible Instruction