Friday, September 2, 2011

This Week's Inspiration

Went on a site visit for class this week that gave me an emotional boost: Shonaquip.

While this organization is involved in many aspects of the fight for disability rights, from policy-writing to targeted research,  the idea behind it is simple--that every person deserves life-saving medical equipment that is appropriate for their individual needs.

Shona McDonald began this struggle when she gave birth to a daughter with cerebral palsy, and realized how few resources there were for her family. She built her daughter Shelly a chair that was appropriate for her, and began building people chairs that fits their needs, one case at a time.

Infant and child mortality is shockingly high in South Africa, for many reasons, but a large part of the issue is that people faced with poverty often do not get timely medical care. Shelly saw young people with cerebral palsy die very early when their organs were strained from lack of support--and this could have been prevented with the right wheelchair. She also noted how the state-of-the-art equipment manufactured in the Global North was often unusable in different South African communities--realities like gravel or unpaved roads kept people homebound, or without the right chairs.

So Shona started her own business to connect resources about living with a disability to folks who would otherwise go without it. Proper, supportive wheelchairs and physical therapy are offered at this organisation now, which works to help government grants cover the costs of these services.

It was fascinating to talk with Shona about the tension between social development and economic development--they need each other to exist. A purely economic endeavor like mass-producing medical supplies may be profitable, but it will only help the people who can pay for expensive equipment. People without the funds for that state-of-the-art chair will suffer and die from this exclusion. But social development needs to be conscious of things like the cost of materials and shipping as well as the rules for starting up a business. Collaboration is the only way forward.

Shona showed her indomitable spirit when one classmate asked her about the difficulty she's had changing an exclusive system in South Africa. She said that since she knew what she wanted (more inclusive medical aid), nothing could stop her. There may be obstacles, but she was so focused on her goal that she just tried different solutions until one worked. She refused to be beat down by "a system," and will keep on fighting for equality in the field of disability care.

Before Wednesday, when we had this site visit, I felt like the semester was wearing me down. But after visiting Shonaquip, I'm ready for a fight.

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