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Abilis Foundation is a unique ally for Myanmar’s persons with disability in times of conflict

“Abilis Foundation is very important for Myanmar’s persons with disability and their organisations. Too few donors support the organisations with persons with disability (DPOs) in Myanmar. Abilis’s support not only is directed to DPOs but also reaches grass roots disability groups throughout Myanmar. “- This is how one of the founders of the Myanmar disability movement and Abilis Myanmar board member described to me the work done by Abilis Foundation in Myanmar.

In 2023, I had the chance to meet on several occasions the Abilis Foundation staff in Myanmar and persons with disability who implement projects throughout the country with Abilis funds. Each encounter and conversation reflected what Abilis is about: grass roots actions which enable the full participation of persons with disability and have a structural, local, and global impact on disability rights.

Abilis has worked in Myanmar since 2014.

Half of the population is living in poverty in 2023 in Myanmar

The people of Myanmar have endured the dark legacies of colonial rule, years of social and economic inequality, vulnerability to climate change and dictatorship. Since February 2021 when the military regime usurped power from the democratically elected government the human rights situation in the country deteriorated severely, while the need for humanitarian support increased. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs one-in-three, or 17.6 million people are now in humanitarian need in Myanmar. The same office estimates that almost half of the population is living in poverty in 2023. The rapid depreciation of Myanmar Kyat, the high inflation, the active fighting, and restriction of mobility in the country deepen the poverty.

Persons with disability, especially women, IDPs and minorities are disproportionately affected by the multiple crises in the country. The civil society faces threats and risks.

Persons with disability develop and implement projects with Abilis support

Abilis has worked in Myanmar since 2014. The overall aim of the work is strengthening the local disability movement, and in this way contributing to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Myanmar ratified the Convention in 2011. In practice the two workers in the Yangon office work together with persons with disability and DPOs throughout the country and support them to plan actions that they find meaningful and necessary, implement, report, and evaluate them. Many of the actions support the income generation and skills development of persons with disability, as access to economic rights also gives access to participation and other rights.

Abilis pays special attention to learning and reaching the persons with disability who experience multiple inequalities and sometimes even multiple discrimination. Often this is the case in Myanmar with women and girls with disabilities, persons who belong to ethnic minorities, persons who live in areas affected disproportionately by natural disasters and conflicts, and internally displaced persons. To understand and reach those at risk of being left behind Abilis staff travels long distances and skilfully engage different languages and social practices to reach persons with disability in diverse regions in the country. The active fighting across the country and mobility restrictions makes the work more difficult. Abilis has been able to successfully continue to work in the country because the staff has a deep understanding of the context, forecasts the risks, and adapts the work to the circumstances.

Myanmar has a beautiful natural environment and rich natural resources. These play an important role in sustaining livelihoods and social practices for many people. At the same time Myanmar is one of the countries most affected by climate change and suffered several extreme weather events in the last decade. Last in May Cyclone Mocha caused significant displacement, damaged homes and infrastructure, and devastated agriculture and fisheries. The people of Rakhine state, most affected, have been facing a major food crisis. Abilis' team contacted local disability groups and persons with disabilities in Rakhine and started to provide humanitarian support for those who needed it. At the same time, they collaborate with international organisations who do humanitarian work in the country so that they have more knowledge on how to reach and how to support persons with disability.

Anca Enache

Abilis Foundation Board Member

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