Interview | If children with disabilities aren’t educated, they won’t be able to fully participate in society: Pauline Nadim Ducos, Regional Director, Humanity & Inclusion

‘When we work in inclusive education we have to engage the government, the children, the teachers and also the communities.’

NL Today

  • Read Time 6 min.

Pauline Nadim Ducos is the Regional Program Director of Handicap International- Humanity & Inclusion (HI)’s India, Nepal and Sri Lanka (INNESKA) Program. HI is an independent and impartial aid organization working in situations of poverty, exclusion, conflict and disaster. It works alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, taking action and bearing witness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. In Nepal, since 2000, HI has been implementing health and rehabilitation, inclusive education, inclusive disaster response/ recovery, and inclusive livelihood projects. HI supports the inclusion of socially excluded vulnerable groups, particularly people with disabilities, children, the elderly and women. It promotes their access to services related to health/rehabilitation, education, social security, disaster risk management, livelihoods, education and other essential services.

Pauline recently spoke with Nepal Live Today about her aspirations, journey, and upcoming focus at HI. Following are excerpts from the conversation:

You have worked extensively in the development sector for more than two decades. What inspired you to work in this sector? 

My dream has always been to live in a more equitable world. With more justice. I have wondered why people have been denied privileges since I was a child, and I have worked for social justice ever since. I have always been involved in social work. Volunteering for different organizations caught my attention and made me passionate about working in the development sector.

I see the world in the development sector, especially how NGOs need to support grassroots development and work with their partners. Development should be done by local partners and national staff. In our role as INGOs, we are responsible for strengthening the capacity of local actors to respond to the needs of people enduring situations of vulnerability. Additionally, we support them in meeting their basic needs in order to advocate for change in the country. As part of our work, we are proud to work with organizations of people with disabilities.

You are currently Regional Program Director of Handicap International-Humanity & Inclusion (HI) for India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The organization’s goal reads: ‘everyone can live in dignity’. What approaches are taken to translate the vision into action in Nepal?

It is possible for everyone to live in dignity and we can assert that no one should be left behind. I really believe in this. We believe in the theory of change in Nepal, particularly in three sectors. The first sector is the social sector, with inclusive education and livelihoods. Second is the health sector with a focus on inclusive health, sexual reproductive health, and rehabilitation, and third is disaster risk reduction and climate change. Three sectors together place people experiencing the most vulnerabilities at the center of its program intervention. This includes people with disabilities, women, girls, children, and older people. It allows us to positively contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Contributing to the SDGs for people experiencing the most vulnerable situations and improving their quality of life is our ultimate goal.

Recently, what has been the focus of HI Nepal?

We cover all seven provinces in the country, because there are people with disabilities and people experiencing hardship in all areas. We will focus on the most remote and vulnerable areas in the future, mostly in the Midwest’s hilly region. As part of our work aligning with government priorities, we will develop an intervention that is aligned with government priorities and the most urgent needs of the communities.

One of HI’s notable initiatives in Nepal is its work in inclusive education. Why is it so critical to work in this field?

We argued previously that education is the future; if children with disabilities are not educated, they will not be able to fully participate in society. For us, it is very critical to work on inclusive education to strengthen the education system. There are many actors working in Nepal in the field of education, but a very few specialize in inclusive education. If you want to have children with disabilities in the schools you need inclusive education, which means that you need to have accessible schools that welcome children with disabilities. It is not only physical accessibility that is critical, but also schools with enough lighting, teachers trained in inclusive education, and a safe school environment. For us to be able to provide adequate support or a referral to the proper services, such as assistive devices, we are required to identify children with functional limitations. We need to identify their learning needs.

‘We support governments to develop plans and make sure that they are inclusive of people with disabilities at the local level. All of our activities are linked to government priorities.’

For inclusive education, we will require children to have an individualized education plan to be supported by teachers and parents. Through inclusive education, you can also change the mentality of the communities for them to accept children with disabilities to go to schools. There are still many children with disabilities who are hidden by their families or communities and are not able to attend schools. When we work in inclusive education we have to engage the government, the children, the teachers and also the communities.

How does HI’s work in inclusive disaster risk reduction and emergency response benefit Nepali people with disabilities?

HI has worked on emergency response and preparedness in Nepal since the beginning of its action in the country in 2000. We know that people with disabilities are more impacted by epidemics, disasters, and emergency situations. We have to take them into consideration when we do Disaster Risk Reduction. A twin-track approach is used. One track focuses on responding to the specific needs of people with disabilities, for example, in Disaster Risk Reduction, there would be specific response preparation for them. People with visible disabilities might need specific health care facilities. In the case of an earthquake, how do we evacuate people with disabilities? We use these two components as part of our DRR activities. During an emergency, HI will help with rehabilitation, for example with physiotherapy, by providing assistive devices that we hope to combine with mental health and psychosocial support. So we have a team specialized in mental health to offer direct response and long-term support. Additionally, we are responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities and groups that are regularly experiencing situations of vulnerability get protection during an emergency.

In your opinion, what are the impacts of pandemics on eliminating poverty and achieving zero hunger?

COVID-19 has a negative impact on eliminating poverty and achieving zero hunger. During the epidemic, people were restricted in their movement, those living in the most vulnerable situations were most impacted, and some lost their jobs. So, during such times, special attention should be given to people with the greatest needs and people with disabilities. Together we need to get them access to vital lifesaving information by providing humanitarian aid such as food, sanitation, and assistive technology, among other things.

How critical is it to empower local civil society organizations, particularly Disabled People Organizations to achieve your organization’s goals and objectives?

At HI, we always work with people with disabilities and organizations for people with disabilities. We do our activities with them. “Nothing about us, without us” is our favorite slogan. This is very significant for us. Who can best advocate for their rights? Themselves. Who better understands the needs of the communities? Themselves. Who can respond to these needs? Themselves. Our role is to empower them through training, coaching, as well as funding from donors or financial partners.

How does your organization align your programs in line with the policies and programs of the government of Nepal? How do HI’s activities complement the government’s goal of ending poverty and hunger?

All our activities are in line with the policies and programs of the government of Nepal. The Social Welfare Council has accredited each of our activities. We follow the guidelines and policies of the government. We are evaluated by the government. We organize field visits and have audits from the government. With these layers of accountability, we are able to ensure that we are on track with the policies and priorities of the Nepal government.

‘Our ultimate goal is to contribute to the GDS for the most vulnerable and improve their quality of life.’

We work collaboratively with the government of Nepal in order to improve the system. For example, we’re working to improve the health system by strengthening the rehabilitation sector with the Ministry of Health and Population at the federal level. We support governments to develop plans and make sure that they are inclusive of people with disabilities at the local level. All of our activities are linked to government priorities.

This year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was marked with the slogan: “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world”. How is this theme relevant to Nepal’s context?

We need to come up with innovative solutions for more inclusive development. Innovation is an essential part of ensuring the inclusion of people with disabilities, as well as ensuring the quality of work practices. Innovation could be scaled up and done in another country. In recent years, HI has introduced two major innovations in Nepal. First, the sign language learning mobile application we developed during the COVID-19 crisis helped children who are deaf or hard of hearing continue their education. It also allowed family members to learn the basics of sign languages. The next is tele-rehabilitation. This helps people living far from the rehabilitation center receive physiotherapy and improve their wellbeing. It is especially important in countries like Nepal where accessibility remains challenging for people who need regular services, including people with disabilities.