OPDs are local organisations run by people with disabilities, that support and champion people with disabilities, so they are well placed to provide timely response and incorporate the valuable insights of their members.
“As a mother of two children with disabilities, it has been my struggle to have their voices heard. However, with the AHP, I am happy that the community has become more inclusive,” says Unaisai, Secretary of the Fiji Disabled Persons Federation (FDPF).
Una, as she is commonly known, says the activities carried out through the AHP have helped to include people with disabilities when preparing communities to respond to disasters.
Watch Una talk about her experience with disasters
“During natural disasters, Tavua [in northern Fiji] floods, especially the other low-lying villages. Because of the awareness we have done, the Fiji Police Force and others reach out to me to ensure that all our members are safe. They now understand that when disasters strike, our facilities need to be accessible.
“We have had cases in the past where persons with disabilities were stranded and the training has not only opened their eyes but shown us how to work as a close unit when a warning is issued.”
Una adds that the program has empowered the community to come together to create change.
“Now with the auditing training we have undergone, the village understands why it is important for ramps. In our recent workshop, there is also talk for the community to come together and build an accessible toilet for one of our community members whose wash facility is not accessible for him.”
Una worked closely with seven village leaders to support people with disabilities in her village and its surrounds. She is also a point of contact for the government when a disaster approaches or occurs.
It is well documented that people with disabilities are disproportionately affected during disasters. Not only are people with disabilities at higher risk of being excluded from activities that prepare communities for a disaster, but they are also more susceptible to loss of life and livelihood when disaster hits.
Born with a physical disability, Litia who hails from Rewa, a region in the south-east of Fiji, commends the AHP for working to create a more accessible and disaster ready community.
The trainings carried out by the AHP with the support of CBM Australia and the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) in her community have led Litia and other community members to take a proactive stand for the inclusion of people with disabilities.
“It has changed the mindset of the community. In one of the communities we visited in Waibuta after conducting a disaster awareness workshop, we saw a vast change. In the past there were no walkways to any houses or even the school which serves as the evacuation centre. When we returned after a few weeks, we saw that all the homes are connected via wide footpaths which had railings, and ramps were also installed at the village hall.”
Watch Litia talk about a disaster planning workshop
Litia says this has made it easier for people with disabilities in her community, especially during times of disasters.
The AHP, CBM Australia and PDF work closely with OPDs in Fiji such as the FDPF to ensure that people with disabilities and their communities are equipped for disasters.
CEO of PDF Seta Macanawai says that before the AHP began, “many people with disabilities had never participated in community disaster management and did not know what action to take to protect themselves during an emergency.
“We are starting to see some positive change now. Through the providing of training and resources, communities are learning how to take action to support people with disabilities when a disaster hits.”
By continuing to strengthen these efforts we can create a world where people with disabilities are no longer most vulnerable to being left behind.