Inclusion in emergencies – three days in Dublin

Six months ago I was throwing cold water over my head to stay cool, as I visited the Philippines to report on six months of post-Haiyan response. This week, roles were reversed – my Philippines colleagues were the ones struggling as they joined me in chilly Dublin…

It’s November, a year after Haiyan hit their country, and Mario Abaygar and May Devaras have come over for a few days with CBM Ireland, where we are highlighting the importance of disability inclusion in emergency action.

A man in a wheelchair giving a presentation, with text 'Data gathering' and picture of a boat on the screen

Mario, explaining the work of the focal points during Monday’s workshop

May is president of our partner Association of Disabled Persons Iloilo, and Mario is Coordinator of the Ageing and Disability Focal Points. In case you didn’t click that last link, I’ll try to explain as I think it’s important 🙂 These ‘focal points’ were set up, with CBM support, to make sure that that people with disabilities can access the services they need after typhoon Haiyan; but, the real beauty of them – in my opinion – is that ADPI is a Disabled Person’s Organisation (DPO), meaning that people with disabilities are supporting their own communities to rebuild. As Mario said last night to the audience of CBM donors, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help ourselves to recover”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… the week has flown past.

Workshop with humanitarians

On Monday, we had a full-day workshop with members of Dochas (the association of Irish Non-Governmental Development Organisations), including many people who work in humanitarian response. One of the ‘fun’ parts of the workshop was the simulation of an emergency situation led by CBM Disability Inclusive Development advisor Barney McGlade. This meant temporarily ‘disabling’ people, with the aid of blindfolds, earplugs and bandages.

People - some blindfolded, some in wheelchairs, some standing on sheets of paper

The emergency simulation exercise

Of course, this is never going to be like the real thing, but it is a valuable experience – my normally-able-bodied colleagues couldn’t hide their frustration at being unable to communicate, and said they felt confused and disoriented. This was a good learning, and when we discussed it afterwards it was great to see their appreciation of the importance of interdependence. I was especially delighted when it was the person who was in the wheelchair who worked out the best way for the group to cross the fictitious foaming river of acid – great evidence that people with disabilities are an essential resource when working towards inclusion.

A workshop, with flipcharts and logo 'CBM' on big screen

Discussions on building disability inclusive emergency programmes

Once the fun stopped, these humanitarian experts put in some serious workshop time. Tushar Wali (CBM Emergency Response Unit Programme Manager) led them through the technicalities of ensuring that the basic and specific needs of everyone are included in an emergency action, and, in groups, we devised the basics of building an emergency response to four different disaster scenarios, all including people with disabilities.

The highlights were presentations at the end of the day by Mario and May – they may have been out of their comfort zones with the cold weather here, but they were completely at ease showing how an inclusive response works in real life.

Radio, TV, international students and parliamentarians

A man on television, talking and gesticulating

Barney, explaining the effects of the typhoon on Irish national TV (RTE)

Tuesday started early for Barney, as he was whisked off to the RTE studios to be interviewed live on radio. While there, he was spotted by the television side of the morning shows and within minutes was in make-up and in front of the cameras (fast forward to 1:07). He is officially Ireland’s non-resident expert on Typhoon Haiyan (Barney is Irish, but lives already more than 20 years in the Philippines).

We met him again – still in his make-up and enjoying his new-found fame – at Trinity College, to present to students of the MSc course in Global Health. Again, we started with the simulation and again it was a light-hearted eye-opener for many people. But very soon, after the Filipino presentations, the discussion was serious, with the international students asking how our partners had located and identified the people with disabilities – fully aware that in different cultures different approaches are required. This is more evidence that the CBM approach – always working through our local partners, and often DPOs – is ideal, as these organisations know the nuances of local culture. As May explained, it was easy for them to find families with disabilities, because the people knocking on the doors were people with disabilities themselves.

We moved on – in the pouring rain – to the Dáil, or Irish Parliament. Here, we were ushered through the austere corridors of power, for a relatively informal meeting with several members, including Eric Byrne, Seán Crowe, Olivia Mitchell, Maureen O’Sullivan and Brendan Smith, and representatives of several others. It may have been quite short, but no time was lost; these busy politicians were genuinely interested in our work, with questions on how the situation is now in the Philippines and how people with disabilities are disproportionately affected. Mario and May expressed their gratitude for the support that has come from Ireland.

We finished the day with an impromptu tour of the parliament – which was extremely wheelchair accessible – and the highlight was arriving in the Senate just as issues related to the UN CRPD were being discussed!

Domestic NGOs and photo exhibition

Several people around a table; one is presenting

May explaining ADPI to the Disability Federation of Ireland

Wednesday, the last day, gave us a late start and a late finish. First stop was a round table meeting with Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) and other domestic disability NGOs to discuss inclusion in emergencies. But it went further than this; the DFI members were extremely interested in the work of ADPI, and vice-versa, and both groups tentatively talked about staying in touch and sharing knowledge and resources in future.

And to the ‘grand finale’ – the Royal College of Physicians, a great venue – where we displayed a photo exhibition of the response to Typhoon Haiyan.

A photo exhibition; two wheelchair users are visible

Photo exhibition

A large audience – including many loyal donors of CBM –  saw our colleagues in a panel discussion. Here, all the experiences of the typhoon came together, from Mario and May’s first hand accounts to Barney’s in-depth knowledge of disability inclusion and Tushar’s wealth of experience in humanitarian aid.

We all leave for home again today, and I’m sure some of us are happy to return to sunnier places. But, there’s no doubt that a year after one of the worst storms ever recorded, CBM, our partners, our humanitarian colleagues in Ireland and many of the people here, are now better informed of how to include disability and therefore even better prepared for future emergency responses.

Read more about inclusion in emergency response