A tenth of people worldwide live with a disability: this minority often suffers discrimination, exclusion and disadvantage. One Bolivian woman faced this problem, fought it and won – with the help of Christian Aid.
Juana Karina Chávez Gómez lives in the small city of Cobija, northern Bolivia, where she belongs to a local association for people living with disabilities.
Juana Karina and her fellow group members had long been frustrated by the physical obstacles that excluded or restricted them from many aspects of everyday life.
Access all areas?
‘In Cobija, there were many architectural barriers that impeded us from leading a normal, daily life like other people,’ Juana Karina explains.
‘As people with disabilities we were not able to sell in some market places, nor go to the bank. To accompany our children to school or to the park was impossible.’
Things began to change when the group got support from a Christian Aid-funded project, Local Power, run by our partner UNITAS.
Power to the people
Local Power aims to support, equip and train local organisations in Bolivia to lobby for their economic, social and cultural rights.
When Juana Karina’s group presented its case to Local Power, they were invited to attend a training course with 30 other small organisations.
During the sessions, the organisations designed political and legal strategies to lobby the institutions that were abusing their rights.
Of those that took part, five organisations were then chosen to receive further support in implementing their strategies: Juana Karina’s disability association among them.
The road to change
‘Together with UNITAS we started to apply the strategy,’ says Juana Karina. ‘It was a long road but we walked it together.
‘During the training we realised that we had many strong legal arguments.
'In effect, to deny people with disabilities effective access to public or private spaces is a form of strong discrimination.’
‘It was a long road but we walked it together.’
Juana Karina’s association had many meetings with local government, presenting a series of applications, requests and petitions.
After a few months of lobbying, they were successful: the government installed ramps across the city to provide better access facilities for people living with disabilities.
Empowered by success
The legacy from the Local Power project doesn’t stop there. Juana Karina and her fellow group members have continued to use the invaluable skills and tools they have gained to speak out for change.
Empowered by its success, the group realised that a by-law referring to disability issues wasn't strong enough to protect people living with disabilities in Cobija.
So they submitted a second proposal and, after conversations with the municipal authorities, the local government passed a new by-law.
As part of this, the council committed 350,000 bolivianos (over £32,500) in its 2012 budget to pay for other works to improve accessibility.
These have included providing more ramps, better signage and new handrails, which will benefit approximately 600 people living with disabilities in the region.
How you can help
Please help us to continue supporting projects like Local Power by donating to Christian Aid today.