Thursday, January 5, 2017

Help us provide wheels for Jacques

Jacques Guenaro Zongo
Over the summer, a young man contacted the Utah Assistive Technology Program through Facebook, asking if we could help him find a wheelchair.

Since then, we have learned a lot about Jacques, what he needs, why he contacted us, and how to help.

Our biggest barrier: he lives in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. Our next-biggest barrier: while the UATP's CReATE program had a chair that would serve his needs, it did not have funding to provide the needed extra batteries or pay for the chair's shipment it to West Africa.

But CReATE and its friends are not giving up, because the need is real. Today we are asking for your help.

"Here it is very hard to get a wheelchair because there is no one who makes them," Zongo said in an interview we conducted through Facebook.

Zongo attends the University of Ouagadougou. He is part of the organization Mouvement Panafricain Des Droits des Personnes Handicapees (Pan-African Movement for the Rights of Handicapped People). "Here I took part in many meetings for people with disabilities to know my rights and to prepare my future fighting for our rights in many countries of Africa," he said. "Every time, I share many pieces of information about people with disabilities and try to encourage those who feel hopeless to never give up, because disability is not incapability."

He heard about what we do through Ismael Traore, one of a delegation of people from many countries who visited the CReATE program in 2015. The visit was arranged through the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. During the delegates' visit, CReATE coordinator Tom Boman tuned up Traore's wheelchair and sent some extra wheels back with him. Traore knew Jaques, and they both began working with CReATE and Natalie Moore, a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked with Traore during her two years in Burkina Faso.

In fact, Moore helped Traore apply for the Visitors Leadership Program, run through the U.S. State Department,  before she left Burkina Faso. That program helped him come to the U.S. to learn more about disability rights. His involvement led him to tour CReATE in 2015.

Moore, now back in the states in Washington D.C., heard of Jacques's need and began making some goals that launched a fundraising effort--she has named it Yembre--to transport wheelchairs to Jaques and others like him. "The first thing that Yembre can do is get Jacques a wheelchair," she said. From there she would like to help the university at Ouagadougou to get an accessible bus, which could then be used as an example to the Burkina government for accessible public transportation.

She knows of no accessible buses in Burkina Faso. People with disabilities in face many barriers to independence, she said.

Jaques agrees. For now he relies on classmates for help, but he hopes for more independence. "After my graduation I want to work in an organization that helps people who are suffering," he said.

For a closer look at Ismael Traore and life for people with disabilities in Burkina Faso, watch this documentary (it has English subtitles).

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