What's Poverty Got to Do With It?

The world's poverty benchmark is an income less than US $2 (about 300 Naira) per day and by that statistic about 50 percent of the World's 7 billion people live in poverty. Do bear in mind that about 20 percent of the world's poorest people have disabilities, and that of the people with disabilities (PWD) a whopping 80 percent live in developing countries.

The present-day realities of people with disabilities, especially in the developing world, are those of stigmatization, abuse and extreme poverty. Poverty and disabilities need not be related in any way as people despite having one disability or the other can live their lives to the fullest, contributing meaningfully and gainfully to economies. The PWD are after all individuals with as much human rights as the rest of us, but who unlike the rest of us can only contribute in unique ways to nation building.

On the 23rd of September, 2013, a high-level meeting at the 68th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations which held in New York City, USA, deliberated on Disability and Development and unanimously agreed that people with disabilities be included in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This was because the PWD are the world's largest minority group totalling more than one billion people worldwide.

As at 2009, Nigeria had about 20 million people living with one kind of disability or the other, and over 70 percent of these people live in extreme poverty, with only a few PWD living reasonably well, earning their livelihood with prestige and honor.

The few PWD who turn out well in life say that a very supportive family is one of their major pillars. There is no doubt that families are the basic units of love, and when the PWD get rejected and abandoned by their own blood as commonly happens in Nigeria then an array of other problems such as abuse, discrimination, and extreme poverty sets in.

One often wonders why the PWD live in extreme poverty. As with many of the realities of our era, there are a myriad of problems which are responsible for this predicament and efforts aimed at eradicating extreme poverty among the PWD in Nigeria can only be productive when all the important contributing factors are adequately addressed.

First, the stigmatization of the PWD which is still commonplace in third-world countries must be done away with. Regrettably, in African communities, we demonize that which we do not understand. Yet, the PWD are no devils, as it is thought in some quarters; they are as much humans as the able-bodied people in the society, and as such deserve to be loved and treated with respect.

The majority of children with disabilities do not go to school partly because the parents are too embarrassed to bring them out of the house and partly because most regular schools will not take them in with other students even though inclusive education remains the best for the majority of the PWD. Yet, the few children with disabilities who get to attend the schools of children with special needs do not learn so much as to maximize their unique capabilities.

It must be understood that the PWD are differently-abled and not disabled; and an educational system that understands and individualizes the needs and challenges of each child with disabilities is the one that will equip them with the necessary skills with which they will create their own opportunities economically. Unfortunately, this effective educational system for the PWD is still a mirage here in Nigeria.

Caring for the PWD is no doubt a huge responsibility as they require, nay, demand, a lot of time and effort. Nevertheless, families should never see them as a burden.

Lastly, "our societies, all our societies, are stronger when every single one of our citizens, able-bodied and disabled alike, all get to live up to their full potential" with us recognizing "that extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere [and recalling] ... that poverty is a denial of human rights" (John Kerry, US Secretary of State, italics added; Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General).

Freeman Osonuga is the Founder and Executive Director, Heal the World Foundation Nigeria. Visit the website www.htwfnigeria.org.