December 3rd marks the ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’, a moment to renew our commitment to changing attitudes towards disabled people and disability. Challenging the prejudices is the first step towards the full inclusion of disabled people within their communities.
Around the world YMCAs work with disabled young people to challenge stigma and disability discrimination and include them in their programmes. For example in Myanmar, the YMCA has worked with over 200 people, many of whom are disabled, get into education, gain life skills and find a job.
Min Myat, 24, never attended any school until he was 13 years old.
Min Myat was born in Pue Long, Myanmar and at eight months old picked up an unknown infection that resulted in a problem with the bones in his hip. The infection significantly affected his mobility. In the muddy and uneven streets of Myanmar, it was often difficult for him to get around.
In addition, family life was very difficult for Min Myat. Tragically, by the time he was 7 years-old, he had lost eight of his siblings to diseases. The family were trapped in poverty with his parents struggling to feed him; let alone afford any medical treatment or walking aides. In an attempt to improve his health Min’s parents took him to a monastery, where nuns nursed him back to health and helped him to walk. However, the damage to his legs was severe and he was unable to walk until he was 10 years old.
Alongside this difficult start in life and despite the progress he made to lead an independent life, too often Min Myat still faced discrimination and exclusion from his peers.
“Life is difficult when you have a disability because people discriminate against you. Young people of my age don’t want me around. They don’t allow me into the community group to sing Christmas Carols. They laugh because of my legs”
Facing ridicule from peers and exclusion in his community, Min Myat sought out a local YMCA. He wants to improve his literacy and numeracy skills, but as importantly, get the support and community which only accepting friends can bring.
Currently he lives nearby earning 20,000 kyats (around £13) a month working on farms. With the help of the YMCA, he plans to learn how to repair engines, and with the help of the literacy project, has taken the first steps towards doing this. The YMCA have helped Min, and many others, increase their confidence, allowing them to lead the life they want to the full.
“At the beginning it was very difficult because I hadn’t read or written anything for over 6 years! But I learned a lot about how to communicate with other people. Eyes are windows to communicate with others, and I have learned to communicate with my teachers, friends and family, and our community leaders.”