Speaking Up About Mental Health
Play audio version
Meet DJP Fellow Esther Suubi
June 27, 2021
Esther Suubi is an educator and advocate for those with psychosocial disabilities, especially in her home country of Uganda. Born in a small town near Kampala, she found herself battling depression in her adolescence in a country where those with psychosocial disabilities are often considered incapable and unable to amount to anything in society. Undeterred by Uganda’s views, Suubi’s family provided her with all the care they could, which led her to Triumph Uganda Mental Health Support and Recovery Program (TRIUMPH) in Jinja. TRIUMPH’s mission is to “contribute to the process of enhancing recovery, building resilience and investing in social networks for inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities.” At TRIUMPH, Suubi was welcomed with open arms, receiving the support she needed.
Now, as a graduate of Uganda Christian University Mukono with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication, she has continued pushing to destigmatize psychosocial disabilities with her work at TRIUMPH, where she serves as a self-advocate in peer education and communications, focusing on young women and adolescent girls. When Suubi is not leading sessions and training others, she is writing and proposing policies about mental health and sexual reproductive rights to key stakeholders in Uganda. Most recently, last November she presented a policy paper on access to sexual and reproductive health rights and services for adolescent girls and young women with psychosocial disabilities.
I decided to stand up and fight for my fellow girls and young women by speaking up so that we are heard.Esther Suubi
With a strong interest in journalism, digital media, and social change, Suubi eagerly applied to participate in the Disability Justice Project’s fellowship program to gain one-on-one mentorship focused on enhancing her storytelling skills to benefit her work at TRIUMPH and beyond. Her goal is to build a personal social media following and campaign to raise awareness of the mental health disparities in Uganda and around the world. “I decided to stand up and fight for my fellow girls and young women by speaking up so that we are heard,” she says. “Many girls and young women are out there suffering and can’t speak up, but it won’t keep me silent.” Suubi continues, “As a mental health advocate…I want to see how I can use my social media handles…to be a representative out there.” The fellowship program will give her access to resources and mentorship that she has not had before, and Suubi is hoping she will be able to utilize social media and documentary-style videos to get her message out.
Suubi has deep love and passion for the work she is doing and will take on with the fellowship. With her expanded social media presence and the knowledge she gains from the Disability Justice Project, she is hoping to one day be the founder and director of her own organization, where she can connect with companies and other organizations about psychosocial disabilities and reiterate to them what she already knows to be true: persons with disabilities are able to do the work and enact change when given the chance.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
For decades, Rwandans with disabilities faced significant challenges to accessing health care. Now the country has embarked on an ambitious plan to renovate all of its outdated facilities, with accessibility as a priority. Thirty health centers have been updated so far, changing stairs into ramps, adding Braille signage and more. “Having access to health services to persons with disability in Rwanda is like dreams that we all wish to be true,” says Aimable Irihose of the Rwanda Organization of Persons with Physical Disabilities and Wheelchair Users.
Terubeimoa (Ruby) Nabetari 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. When she first became disabled from an accident, “I felt sad and confused … because I was well-known as a person who composed music and drama in my country,” she says. “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.”
DJP Fellow Melvina Voua is advocating for the full inclusion of Solomon Islanders with disabilities in all aspects of climate change adaptation and mitigation. “When the crisis or the disaster happen, we always find it difficult to evacuate or access or even get prepared or respond,” she says. “All … plans must be inclusive and not excluding people with disability, like when designing evacuation centers or developing policies for climate change or disasters.”
DJP Fellow Ari Hazelman is drawing on his region’s rich storytelling history to further the cause of disability rights. “When we think about our myths and legends that we have in our Pacific culture, that’s part of the stories that we grow up with,” he says. “So when you put it to the disability field, using the stories that we can document through the knowledge that we learn in this [DJP] workshop will help us to tell our stories and use those stories to make a positive change in our society.”
DJP Fellow Isoa Nabainivalu is a Deaf disability rights advocate for his country of Fiji. Since 2019, he has been focusing on advocating for the rights of one of the more marginalized groups in the Pacific – LGBTQI+ persons with disabilities. “First and foremost for us is for our members to come out, to feel comfortable, to know their rights and know how to use them in different spaces,” he says.
Faaolo Utumapu-Utailesolo is a program officer for the Pacific Island Countries with the Disability Rights Fund. She is a longtime disability rights activist in Samoa. “As an advocate, you get knocked down by things,” she says, “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.”