Zekia Musa Ahmed left, during Family Planning conference in Pattaya, Thailand, November 2022. | © B. Bringi / HI
Zekia Musa-Ahmed, who lives with vision loss, is a campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities. She talks about her role as inclusion officer on the WISH project in South Sudan.
Zekia joined Handicap International in 2020 as a counselor for mental health project. Since September 2021, she has been responsible for inclusion as part of the WISH project. As a person living with vision loss, Zekia knows the challenges that people with disabilities face every day. She tells us that what motivated her to join the project teams was the direct involvement of people with disabilities in its rollout. Describing herself as a campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities, their inclusion is of paramount importance to her.
Zekia is responsible for ensuring better access to sexual and reproductive health services for people with disabilities through greater inclusion. She identifies people with disabilities in the community and refers them to the appropriate services.
She also identifies the barriers they encounter in accessing these services. These barriers are often due to perceptions of traditional and modern family planning. To understand and change these perceptions, Zekia carries out various awareness-raising activities, hosts radio programmes and webinars organises community dialogues and group discussions, and so on.
What Zekia loves most about her work is the close contact she has with the community. Living with vision loss herself, and describing herself as a campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities, she takes her role very seriously. She wants to give a voice to those who are not heard. Thanks to her contribution, people with disabilities, particularly women and girls, will be able to access sexual and reproductive health services.
Zekia tells us, however, that the project still faces challenges. In South Sudanese communities, the subject of sexuality is taboo, so it is crucial to overcome preconceived ideas in order to raise community awareness and prevent accidents.
"When we were raising awareness about family planning and contraception, the community didn't want to hear about it. People thought it might stop women from having children," says Zekia.
She explains that the lack - or total absence - of sign language interpreters in health establishments makes it difficult to pass on information to people with hearing loss. She also points out that most people with disabilities ask for mobility aids, and youth and women's organisations are waiting for financial support to set up their own activities. The notion of inclusion is also still poorly understood in the organisations with which she works. They don't know how to involve people with disabilities. Zekia says that there is still a lot of room for improvement on these issues in South Sudan, and that organisations are in need of training.
If she had a magic wand, Zekia would improve the situation of the South Sudanese disabled communities. She would remove all the barriers and negative cultures that hinder their socialisation and participation in various activities. She sees these challenges as prospective improvements for the project.
However, Zekia highlights two major successes. Firstly, the empowerment of people with vision loss, so that they themselves can become community health relays. Zekia is also delighted to note that, as the project has unfolded, and thanks to her personal contribution, negative attitudes towards people with disabilities have lessened in the communities where the WISH project has been carried out.
Lastly, Zekia is very proud of the work done by HI in South Sudan:
"Of course, words are not enough to explain what HI is, because HI has really done a lot in our country. Personally, I've benefited a lot from the results of the programme's actions, particularly in terms of awareness-raising, advocacy, training and, last but not least, employment! This clearly shows that HI is not just working to help people with disabilities, it is working with these people, and this is real proof of its inclusion approach.”