African Politics and Policy

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Interview with Sabine Rehbichler, Light for the world

African Politics and Policy is delighted to share with our readers the promised interview with LIGHT FOR THE WORLD organization. In this context, we are very glad to introduce Sabine Rehbichler, International Programmes & Advocacy and Strategic Partners Director, with whom we will discuss the differences in working with various cultures, their achievements in 2016, why LFTW is called ‘convener’, and how you personally can help to the organization.

Credit: Gregor Kuntscher

 

APP: As an international organization with European members working in 15 countries, do you feel that different countries face different challenges in their efforts to build inclusive societies?

Sabine Rehbichler: In general, inclusion and exclusion are universal issues. However, of course, depending on the cultural basis in a given country there are differences. Just to give one example. People in the Global North are often surprised when we report about existing practices and success stories of the inclusion of children with disabilities in schools in the Global South. In our inclusive education projects in Africa, children with and without disabilities learn side by side. In many European countries – despite the means of and technologies for inclusive education being even more widely available, mainstream education is sometimes more exclusive of children with disabilities than in many African countries.

APP: Could you please outline the main findings of the recent Light for the World’s Activity Report (https://www.light-for-the-world.org/activity-report-accessible)?

Sabine Rehbichler: With the support of our partners and donors around the globe we were able to help more people than ever before in 2015. In 181 projects we reached over 1.3 Million people experiencing eye diseases and persons with disabilities in underserved regions of the world. In addition, we supplied 7.7 Million people with medication against neglected tropical diseases. In Ethiopia and Mozambique, we scaled our work on eliminating trachoma. In Burkina Faso, persons with disabilities took part in the country’s first free elections. In South Sudan and Lebanon, we helped refugees with disabilities. Our disability and inclusion lab offers expertise on mainstreaming disability and inclusion. We have also made progress at international level: the United Nations have explicitly included the issues faced by persons with disabilities in their new Sustainable Development Goals.

APP: To create changes it is important to work side by side with local government, public and private sectors. How successful have been your collaboration with local government and private sector organizations to address the health and education issues of the countries where your organization operates?

Sabine Rehbichler: Light for the World works in close collaboration with local partners all over the world and focuses on interlinking partners. In recently undergone country evaluations, Light for the World has been given the name “convener” by many partners. Since the challenges of this world in general and the issue of inclusion in particular cannot be addressed and solved by only one organization or one party, we champion the work in regional and international networks. Our area of work demands the collaboration and the joining hands of everybody involved. We encourage partners to see each other’s similarities rather than the differences and we like to support multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Our local support is based on the local needs and existing structures. While working closely with local stakeholders and governments, Light for the World creates awareness of health issues in the area of eye care, disability inclusion and inclusive education. One example of our work would be, that after only seven years of awareness raising through Light for the World and local partners the government of Mozambique has decided to include Community Based Rehabilitation into their social welfare policy and receives advice on its implementation from disability organizations and NGOs like Light for the World.

Also just recently Light for the World launched a network of NGOs working in disability and development in Ethiopia to jointly address common questions and together partner up with other sectors.

APP: Does the organization provide opportunities to do joint research? if so, what are some of the most urgent research needs that you have?

Sabine Rehbichler: We support local initiatives of partners to implement programmes striving towards eye health as well as wider health and education and the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Basing our work on evidence and thus research is an integral part of our strategy, though it is not the sole focus. We focus on linking concrete services for beneficiaries with systemic questions, thus by broad networking, partnering with stakeholders, policy work as well as monitoring and evaluation – including research. Just recently, we have partnered with the International Disability and Development Consortium to conduct a research on disability-responsive education financing that was supported by the Open Society Foundation. The report that was produced, called Costing Equity, found that millions of children with disabilities are being left out of school because little to no money is being budgeted for their needs.

APP: What was one of the most touching/remarkable experiences that you had during your work in the organization?

Sabine Rehbichler: In my work, I experienced many of those moments. But to personally witness that people in South Sudan could access eye health after so many years of conflicts, in which they were deprived from any basic services including the simplest medical interventions… only thinking about the emotions which are set free, still moves me deeply and is beyond words. And such experiences lead me to appreciate life and all the abundance I live in even more.

APP: Your Community based rehabilitation (CBR) program – that takes place directly in the villages – is very interesting and helpful, and seems to be a much better approach to segregating children in the specialized centers. Could you please tell more about how you came up with this idea and what have been so far the effects of this program?

Sabine Rehbichler: The Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) approach was initiated by the World Health Organization. According to WHO definition, CBR is a multi-sectoral approach working to improve the equalization of opportunities and social inclusion of people with disabilities while combating the perpetual cycle of poverty and disability. CBR is implemented through the combined efforts of people with disabilities, their families and communities, and relevant government and non-government health, education, vocational, social and other services.

CBR was officially defined in 2004 by the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and World Health Organization (WHO) as “a strategy within general community development for the rehabilitation, equalization of opportunities, poverty reduction and social inclusion of all people with disabilities.

Thus, CBR is not a Light for the World strategy but developed for resource poor settings. It proves to be an effective strategy for inclusion of persons with disabilities in rural communities within the work of Light for the World, however, the involvement and ownership of countries, at no cost of quality still needs to be seen.

CBR is the backbone of a good part of our support. While linking communities to education and health, it is often the strategy, which enables inclusion in other areas of life.

Light for the World has been involved in the development of the CBR guidelines, including validation in countries and is also active in the global and the African CBR network.

APP: How can our readers get involved in the various programs you offer? and how can we (African Politics and Policy) be helpful to you?

Sabine Rehbichler: For our work, we are dependent on donations. Therefore, we would encourage everyone who would like to support the inclusion of persons with disabilities in developing countries to donate to Light for the World via https://www.light-for-the-world.org/donate-now. We encourage everyone who wants to support inclusion, to tell others about the situation of persons with disabilities, about the potential of inclusion and about the work of organizations like Light for the World.

For everyone looking for jobs in our organization please have a look at our website’s “work with us” section: https://www.light-for-the-world.org/work-with-us.

APP: What are your future plans?

Sabine Rehbichler: We want to continue our work for and with persons with disabilities in underserved regions of the world.  There is much inequality in the world when it comes to the availability of opportunities and resources, in particular for persons with disabilities: we are committed to redressing this inequality. The strategic objectives of the framework shall evolve into effective and meaningful implementation by us, together with our partners. Our vision is an inclusive society for all where no one is left behind and all persons participate equally in the cultural, social, political and economic environment.

We will continue to engage in empowering persons with disabilities to take development in their own hands. We will further strive to overcome all barriers in society and create access for people with disabilities. We are committed to improving eye health and promoting inclusive education, community-based rehabilitation, disability rights, livelihood and disability inclusion. We want to pay specific attention to women with disabilities, children with disabilities and more excluded impairment groups within the disability community.

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