Nothing about us, without us

The Creative Self Help Centre (CSHC) is just one initiative, in one province of PNG that is worthy of recognition for the amazing work that it is doing.  The scope of the centre in Madang is broad and all encompassing, bringing together young people with hearing, vision, physical, mental, and emotional problems.  And at this time of year what better opportunity to reflect on a vital service that brings exceptional people together to support them in achieving their potential.

With a close relationship with VSO, I came into contact with the incredible work being done by the centre early in my Papua New Guinean experience.  I was astonished by the dedicated team providing education and support to such a wide spectrum of people living with disability in a country that has little infrastructure to support these individuals.

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The CSHC was established in 1978 to help people with disabilities to make choices freely to determine their own futures.  The province has a population of approximately 400,000 people, of which about 15% (60,000) people are living with a disability. This significant minority lacks access to education, health, and rehabilitation services that will enable them to live independently. 

The centre promotes inclusive education, rehabilitation services, helps reduce attitudinal barriers to people with disability so that they can fully participate in society, ensures that people with disability are at the centre of interventions affecting their lives, and helps promote the development and implementation of policies that support people with disabilities.  CSHC follows the principle of ‘nothing about us, without us’ believing that people with disabilities should wherever possible be the drivers of any intervention that is working towards a more inclusive society. They follow a rights based approach to all their work striving to ensure the centre is increasingly run and supported by people with disabilities. They focus their work on giving people with disabilities the skills and knowledge to take control of decisions affecting their lives.

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It strives through challenges and is currently working with a skeleton staff of three dedicated teachers who support the centre’s 100 clients with a special education programme that aims to integrate the young people into the mainstream school system, as well as a network of people providing community based rehabilitation services for 650 people living within five outreach zones.  The sheer scale of the work being done is hard to imagine with such limited funds and resources.

Despite the fact that this amazing place exists, there are still major barriers to the treatment of people with disabilities.  I was told that the Christmas show was extremely poorly attended and that many parents don’t come to support their children (preferring to go to the graduations of their able bodied youngsters).  Despite flying back from a shoot that morning I needed no more convincing that I wanted to attend this special occasion.

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With even the invited guests not making an appearance, I happily took on the role and gave an impromptu speech (something that within PNG occasions there are plenty of!).  The morning was a pleasure with the young people acting, singing, signing, and dancing.  It was lovely to see such confidence and friendship amongst all of the smiley faces.  From Fijian dancing, to some of the young people signing verses from the bible, and a fully costumed Christmas nativity performance, it really showcased the inclusivity of the centre.  Long may this special place continue to support these inspiring young people, offering them much brighter futures.

For more information on CSHC go to: creativeselfhelp.weebly.com

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