The Transformative Power of Visibility

Dec. 3, 2018 marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD), an international observance of  the contributions made and challenges faced by people with disabilities around the world. This year’s theme was “empowering people with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” 

Building a Caring Community (BCC) wanted to make the people it serves the center of attention on IDPwD, so staff organized an awareness march with other disability organizations in Moshi and the surrounding area.

At 9 a.m. on Dec. 3, BCC’s buses started arriving for the march, and 75 people in service joined the growing group of people with disabilities and their supporters ready to pour into the streets of Moshi for a parade.

The marchers were as diverse as the disability community itself, with participation from therapy organizations like BCC’s local partner CCBRT, direct service providers like BCC and advocacy groups like SHIVYAWATA, the Tanzania-wide federation of disabled people’s organizations. Participants included people with physical disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities, people who are visually impaired and representatives of the deaf and albino communities.

Led by a marching band wielding their brass instruments, BCC clients danced in the streets as they walked through the city. In Moshi, parade routes are not published in advance, and curious onlookers commuting to work or running their morning errands were greeted by waves and cheers from BCC clients and a sea of signs featuring Kiswahili slogans about the importance of inclusivity and equality for people with disabilities. 

Following the parade, marchers gathered for speeches, music and further celebration and welcomed the guest of honor, a representative of the Regional Commissioner for Kilimanjaro.

The long ceremony had BCC clients itching for a dance break. During a musical interlude, Samweli and Steven, two young adults from Moshi Center, were quick to get up from their seats and go dance in front of the stage.

One by one, other BCC clients joined them. Slowly, other children and young adults from other BCC centers and participating organizations joined in. Before long, the ceremony had turned into a dance party with BCC at the center of the action.

This march and ceremony for IDPwD was not only an opportunity to empower people with disabilities, but also to raise awareness of disability in the Tanzanian community. 

In a country where the stigma associated with disability means that many people with disabilities are isolated in their homes, visibility alone is powerful.

Many Tanzanians have never seen or interacted with a person with a disability.

With hundreds of people with disabilities unapologetically marching hand in hand through the city center and dancing together in front of the stage, the IDPwP parade made a strong statement about inclusivity and acceptance.

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