Zambian delegation checking out state’s disability efforts

In the midst of a 10-day visit here, a delegation of Zambians is hoping to bring back to their country ideas and strategies that will improve the lives of the southern African nation’s disabled and sick.

The nine visitors — including several priests and nuns and a representative of the Ministry of Education — toured the Minnesota State Capitol Friday and met with Minnesotans involved with the disability community. The group wraps up its stay on Sunday.

They are participating in a program organized by Arc Greater Twin Cities, which advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Arc describes the visit as “a learning exchange of best practices, policies and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.”

Zambians hope to ease stigma for citizens with disabilities
Often in Zambia, people with disabilities don’t get educational opportunities or chances to work, said the Rev. Patrick Chisanga, a church official in the province of Zambia. “There is a stigma; some disabled people may be accepted by their families, but many don’t … and stay isolated in their houses,” he said.

Much of the advocacy and aid comes from churches and missionaries, he said. But there is little collaboration among the many groups. Sister Joyce Phiri, of the Sisters of St. Francis, and Chisanga said they were impressed by the cooperation of disability organizations in the Twin Cities. The group sat in on a meeting of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens With Disabilities, an umbrella group of 100 organizations that advocate for the disabled.

Although much of the meeting was about current legislative strategies in Minnesota, the Zambians thought it impressive that leaders of so many groups work together.

They also seemed captivated by an electronic speech machine used by Bob Gregory of United Cerebral Palsy. “We do not have those at home,” said Phiri.

Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke briefly to the group, urging them to inspire others and build partnerships. Even though there are never enough resources, Loeffler said, working together with other interested people and groups can leverage their actions and improve conditions.

Kim Keprios, CEO of ARC Greater Twin Cities, said the Minnesota group hopes to send a delegation to Zambia this summer to further cement relationships and offer more training.

Visitors impressed with interagency cooperation
Grace Banda, of the Zambian Ministry of Education, said she was impressed by the cooperation among parents of children with disabilities and the many organizations that provide help. “Our country is not fully developed yet, so we do not have as much cooperation,” she said.

One strategy she particularly like here, and hopes to implement back home, is individual learning plans for children with special needs. She saw some specific examples, using words and pictures, that will be very applicable in Zambia, she said.

Several of the Zambians work with those infected with HIV; it’s a major problem in the country and receives much of the attention, and much of the limited funding, available from government and outside sources.

Sister Phiri, who works primarily with HIV patients, said the training received in the United States will help her organization form more support groups. Much of the existing support comes from close family members, but joining them together — as ARC and other groups do here — will make their advocacy even more effective, she said.

As well as learning much from the disability groups in the Twin Cities, Chisanga said he was also impressed with another Minnesota feature. The early April snow was a treat for him and many of the other Zambians. “We saw people drive on frozen water,” he said.

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