Blog: Disability, conflict and displacement

Four years ago, in May 2013, as I prepared to hand in my Master’s thesis on Israeli-Palestinian peace building, a single question from an unexpected source changed my life.

Her name was Donna-Rose Mckay. At the time, I had no idea who she was and what an important role she would play in my life. She was the head of the University of Otago Disability Information and Support Office. I was there to seek support, but I left with much more. A challenge: “Robbie, it’s great you’re studying peace building. But what I want to know, is what happens to people like us during war?”

Her question weighed on me. What did happen to disabled people like us? What happens when you can’t run away? When someone with a weapon makes demands of you, but you can’t see, or hear or maybe you can’t understand? What happens to people like us, when food is scarce? The electricity is cut? When you have minutes to flee, or face death?

It is estimated that fifteen per cent of the global population lives with some form of disability, making it the largest minority in the world (WHO, 2015). Often invisible during times of peace, people with disabilities are also thought to be amongst the most marginalised and neglected during times of armed conflict and displacement (Shivji, 2010). While disability is being recognised in humanitarian response, field reports and within the media, academic attention on the experiences of people with disabilities during conflict and displacement is almost non-existent.

With this in mind, I decided to commit three years of my life to finding out more.

Now it’s June 2017 and I’m writing this blog from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Donna-Rose’s words continue to ring in my ears. What happens to people like us during war? I’m here to ask this same question to those who know the answer. The experts. To those with experience.

Over the past month, I have been interviewing people with disabilities and their families, all affected by the horrors of conflict and violence in Colombia and Venezuela. Their stories are beyond anything you could imagination. Violence. Rape. Murder. Poverty. And then there’s the experience of disability on top of that. Unlike myself, who has chosen to pursue PhD research in this area, their expertise has been forced upon them because of circumstances beyond their control.  Every day they live with the compounding effects of disability, displacement and poverty.

But I don’t want to simply recount the horrors of what it’s like to live with a disability during war. I want to tell you about courage and resilience. The people I’ve met are fighters. They are survivors.

So often we read about the ‘global refugee crisis’. But I can’t help but think we’ve got it all wrong. They are not a ‘crisis’. Not the people I’ve met. I’ve met human beings, who against all odds – disability, conflict and poverty – are still here. And it is these experiences that have given them real and raw insights into life and humanity – the good and the bad.

There is a quote that says, ‘To be called a Refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage and victory.’

I would argue that so too, is this label of ‘disability’.

My time here in Ecuador has taught me that it is those wearing badges of strength, courage and victory, who are the ones we should be welcoming into our countries and communities as heroes. With offers of jobs, homes, safety and security. I am absolutely certain the knowledge and expertise that refugees with disabilities bring to the table should be considered invaluable assets within any community, business or school.

Indeed, it is only when we start to see people for their strengths, rather than their weaknesses or deficits, that we can truly start talking about peace.

Drawing of hands holding coffee beans 

Robbie is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her research is looking at inclusive and accessible research methods and the experiences of people with disabilities during conflict and displacement.


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4 hours ago

The Lucy Foundation

ANNOUNCEMENT: Print 3 of 4! Did we mention that Anna Coleman (designer) and Department of Brewology have agreed to donate all proceeds from these incredible prints to The Lucy Foundation? You can pre-order the full set of 4 for $30 from our website now!

#thebestcoffeeofalliscoffeeforall #value #ableismistrash #thingsdisabledpeopleknow #plumacoffeeproject #socialenterprise #buygooddogood #nzinmexico

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5 days ago

The Lucy Foundation

Throw back Thursday: The pictures we posted earlier remind us of the video Coffee Educators Ltd baristas made when they visited our crew in Mexico! They came to learn about the Pluma Coffee Project and teach universally designed barista classes in English, Spanish and sign language!
#memorylane #plumacoffee #thelucyfoundation #mexicocoffeeproject #coffeeeducators #disabilityinclusion #coffeesign

Coffee Educators Ltd
In September 2017, 3 Deaf team members from Coffee Educators embarked on a journey to support The Lucy Foundation in Pluma Hidalgo, Mexico. This is their story.
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5 days ago

The Lucy Foundation

2nd ANNOUNCEMENT: We are super excited to announce 2nd design by @annacolemanillustration for the Department of Brewology and The Lucy Foundation!

Remember, all profits from these prints will be donated to The Lucy Foundation, enabling us to continue our work by ensuring the coffee process is completely inclusive of disabled people from farmer to consumer. How's that for positive change?!

This collection is part of an on-going collaboration series with Department of Brewology - an American-based design-oriented brand devoted to the art & science of specialty coffee.

Here is our second profile from our inclusive value chain of coffee (Mexico to NZ) and Anna's amazing illustrations. Watch this space for more info about how to purchase these rad prints...

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6 days ago

The Lucy Foundation

Our very own Dr. Robbie Francis is currently in Colombia with the Polus delegation to talk with land mine survivors about what they need to enable them to lead their best lives. She is also talking to coffee producers about disability inclusion and Universal Design in their washing stations and cupping labs.
#landminesurvivors #thelucyfoundation #disabilityinclusion #inclusivecoffee #universaldesign #poluscentreforsocialdevelopment

[Image description: In this photo Robbie Francis from The Lucy Foundation stands looking at the camera smiling. She is showing her prosthetic leg. To Robbie's right is landmine survivor Luis Ariel Ibarguen, also showing his prosthetic leg].As a member of the Polus Center's Colombian victim assistance delegation, Dr. Robbie Francis, Ph.D. from New Zealand and Director of The Lucy Foundation compares prosthetic legs with landmine survivor Luis Ariel Ibarguen.
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1 week ago

The Lucy Foundation

ANNOUNCEMENT: We are super excited to announce the launch of these epic designs by @annacolemanillustration for the Department of Brewology and The Lucy Foundation!

Profits from these prints will be donated to The Lucy Foundation, enabling us to continue our work by ensuring the coffee process is completely inclusive of disabled people from farmer to consumer. How's that for positive change?!

This collection is part of an on-going collaboration series with Department of Brewology - an American-based design-oriented brand devoted to the art & science of specialty coffee.

Over the comings days we will showcase profiles from our inclusive value chain of coffee (Mexico to NZ) and Anna's amazing illustrations. Watch this space for more info about how to purchase these rad prints...

#thebestcoffeeofalliscoffeeforall #value #ableismistrash #thingsdisabledpeopleknow #plumacoffeeproject #socialenterprise #buygooddogood #nzinmexico #lucyarm
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