From painful memories to a courageous reward
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 11:26 Ben Bilua
Her courage to rise against all odds was rewarded and recognised. BEN BILUA re-tells the story of Ms Savina Nongebatu:
On 29th March 2012, I was called to attend to an assignment at the Lime Lounge Restaurant in Honiara.
I took my camera, my notebook, and pen and went to Lime Lounge. When I reached there I asked the person standing at the front door about what was going to happen.
Just few minutes after I asked, I got the answer myself. I saw a woman escorted by four people coming out from a taxi.
They led a woman inside a wheel chair into the restaurant. I had no idea who she is, not until I was given the programme. I took a glance through it and hardly believed my eyes and my senses of what I’m reading. She was about to be awarded the Secretary of United States International Women of Courage Awards. She was no ordinary woman after all.
She is Ms Savina Nongebatu and her story was just as compelling to me than to ordinary Solomon Islanders who had never known her before until I came to know her at the Lime Lounge last week.
Before her speech, she said a little prayer of courage “Who dwells in the shelter of the most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say He is my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
“Courage is what I ask God to give me every single day,” she said.
“My journey as a woman with a disability began in 2000. I acquired my disability after a spinal operation at the National Referral Hospital.
“I was sent to Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney then the Prince Of Wales Hospital and lastly Prince Henry.
“I returned home in December 2000; armed with my new equipment, which I referred to as my new friend and New Me.
“I can claim myself that I have met the Saints and Princes,” Mrs. Nongebatu joked.
“I spent three years in my house.
“My marriage fell apart in 2002 and my husband walked out, leaving me with my two children.
“My daughter became my primary caregiver at the age of 7; my son learnt he has extra responsibility at 14. That same year I was made redundant by the Solomon Islands Government,” Ms. Nongebatu expressed her distress with tears.
“It was the most difficult and darkest time in my journey. The heartbreak and hopelessness experienced was excruciatingly painful.
“There were times, I wished I could die.
“But I thank God for my parents and siblings who came to the rescue and became my pillars of strength and support. My world revolved around my children and the determination to see them succeed in life gave me the reason to live.
“In 2004, without a job application or interview, I was employed by JTA International and so slowly, my confidence and self-motivation took off.
“It was Ms Diana Yates’ persistent encouragement that I took off with the limited knowledge and skill left through my full life operation.
“In the same year, I was voted in as President of the Disability People Association of Solomon Islands (DPASI). This was a huge challenge; I was only four years old (in a wheel chair) and lack the skill in leading an organization,
“Re-building an organization and becoming the name and face of PWDSI was very difficult. We had to start from scratch and with no funding or direct support from anywhere, it was indeed a huge challenge for the new executive,” Mrs Nongebatu recalled. My son’s bedroom became ‘the office,” she said with a sigh. She said the office equipment then consists of a computer donated by Liz Baldwin who was the wife of British High Commissioner then, and a printer presented by her boss Patricia Dear and a phone.
“As a voluntary organization, we were doing the work for free; this was also difficult as only a few people who have the heart to do something for free.
“In 2006, ROC donated a container of genuine bags of all shapes and sizes to DPASI. We sold these bags to raise money for the little activities we were doing then. The National Disability Policy was also launched the same year.
“In 2007, with the money raised we decided at the AGM to change the organization’s name from DPASI to People With Disability of Solomon Islands (PWDSI) in significance that disability is no longer a charity case but a human rights issue.”
She said the mentality we have in the SI was still very much of the charity approach where we pity people with disabilities and see them as hopeless or useless.
“In 2008, I became a full-time volunteer for PWDSI. This gave me the opportunity to pay more attention to the organization I was heading. We sought small funding from our partners and were able to continue the work we do,” Mrs Nongebatu recalled.
She said that same year Solomon Islands Government signed the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).
“In 2009, we came across a funding organization called Disability Rights Fund (DRF); we submitted our first funding proposal in August and got our first funding for 2010. And we manage to find “a space for our office.”
“In 2011 we began a first research with partnership with Monash University which looks at the socio-cultural context of disability in this country. Also in November 2011, we had our AGM.”
Ms Nongebatu said under her development programmes about five projects was going on with one research under these projects are funded by donors.
“As citizens of this country, it is important for me and the thousands of people with disabilities to see our govt provide such assistance to our organization and as strong advocate for disability, I would like to encourage everyone to think inclusive in your respective area of work or expertise in the true spirit of the theme of this year’s international women day “connecting girls, inspiring future (involving, participating and empowering.
“When we practice inclusive approaches, no one is left behind or forgotten and I believe as agents positive of change, as courageous mothers; we can nurture positive attitudes towards people with disabilities; especially girls and women with disabilities, she pointed out.
My journey in re-building this organization would not have been possible without the support and trust of many, my family, my children, work colleagues and the most important people in my work; people with disabilities in this country.
“I am a proud daughter, mother, sister, and WOMAN WITH A DISABILITY who answered to the call from above and walked the lonely road; only this time, I know there are many more holding hands and walking with me on this less travelled road towards an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for all.
“Let alone have the courage to encourage others to travel with me on this lonely and less travelled journey,” she concluded.
Ms. Savina Nongebatu was awarded with the Secretary of United State International Women of Courage Award last week for her outstanding performance in advocating the People With Disability Solomon Island (PWDSI).
Source: Frederick Miller
Australian Disability and Development Consortium (ADDC)
56 Rutland Road, Box Hill VIC 3128
Phone: +61 3 8843 4587 • Fax: +61 3 8843 4545
Promoting the rights and
inclusion of persons with
disabilities in development