Blind Fijian Activist Shows Way At The UN

A Fijian activist with Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN) has been praised for a statement she delivered recently at the United Nations in New York. Ruth Senikula was
03 May 2015 09:38
Blind Fijian Activist Shows Way At The UN
Ruth Senikula (left), reading her first statement in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in Braille.

A Fijian activist with Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN) has been praised for a statement she delivered recently at the United Nations in New York.

Ruth Senikula was the first person to read a statement in Braille.

A Caribbean-based blogger and president and co-founder of the Caribbean Ameridian Development Organisation (CADO), Damon Corrie wrote on his blog that Ms Senikula received a standing ovation after her statement – so much so that other indigenous delegates from all over the world then stood behind her and formed a wall of solidarity.

Mr Corrie writes in his blog that delegates were so impressed with Ms Senikula that she was asked to read a second statement within days – that in itself a record since delegates at UN meetings hardly get to read a single statement.

Ms Senikula leads advocacy efforts on behalf of indigenous persons with disabilities within the United Nations (UN) framework and indigenous peoples movements at global, regional and national levels.

The founding members of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN) are themselves indigenous persons with disabilities from various regions of the world including the Pacific Region, North America, West Africa, the Arctic region as well as Asia.

The aim of the network is to promote and protect the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities in conjunction with the United Nations Convention On The Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD); as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Mr Corrie also had a question and answer session with Ms Senikula.

Q: How did you personally benefit from the Project Access Training, how did it help you to understand the UN process better”

A: First of all, for me to be invited by The Tribal Link Foundation to attend the Project Access capacity building workshop is such an honour. Secondly, I have just joined the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network IPWDGN last September and I must say that it took me quite a lot of time to get absorbed into the work. It was quite difficult for me to actually make sense of the UN systems and how things work, understanding the SDGs was another matter. I could not put two and two together. But, however, I kept doing my work as I was supposed to. So, attending the capacity building workshop, even for three whole days was really helpful. It had changed my perceptions and thoughts about the UN system. It gave me a clearer understanding of the beginnings of SDGs, the UNPFII and a whole other range of UN stuff that I did not understand before. So this training has really changed my perceptions and has helped me to be more alert on indigenous issues, not only in my country, but also in the Pacific region as well as the other sub-regions of the world. I am so fortunate to be one of the participants for the Project Access because I believe I am also the first blind participant to attend. It makes me so proud that I also delivered the statement on behalf of the Pacific region, only for Project Access participants 2015. I would like to thank Pamela Kraft, Roberto Borrero, and all the others who worked so tirelessly to get all the participants here including myself.

Q: How will you share or spread or disseminate the information and knowledge you gained in the Project Access training when you return home?

A: Honestly, I believe that now I am ready to participate in workshops that will come up in my country, workshops that regard persons with disabilities and the SDGs. I will be able to contribute and make discussions on this topic, wherever necessary, for the benefit of indigenous persons in my country, and indigenous persons with disabilities. As for the multiplayer effect, back in my country there is an umbrella organisation of disabled peoples’ organisations and we mostly have workshops and meetings regarding a whole range of issues. So, I can confidently say that when the opportunity comes for my invitation and making presentations, I am willing and ready to do so – as a result of this Project Access Training. On an international level, since my network belongs to the Disability caucus, I am willing to share the information that I have learned during the capacity workshop as well as making interventions on behalf of my network in upcoming meetings and workshops, should I get the opportunity to attend. Generally, the very interesting thing that I learnt was how to be well prepared for delivering statements. Before, I had the notion that it was really, really difficult to make statements. But now I learnt that after careful preparations, commitment and continuously learning about issues and being able to adapt it into your situation, I can say that I am well prepared. Moreover, delivering the joint statement for Project Access was another milestone achievement. It has boosted my capacity as a leader in public speaking and being able to be bold and strong to speak about issues that you are passionate about, in front of hundreds of people.

Q: Are you aware of any climate change problems that your own people have a traditional solution for? Because climate change occurs in cycles of every few thousand years, it is only that mankind is exacerbating the current climate change and making it far more severe and dangerous.

A: I am aware that in Fiji, climate change is causing a lot of difficulties. Firstly, with increased rainfall, rivers and creeks are unable to drain water, crops are ruined, the local economy is threatened and local food becomes scarce for the indigenous Fijians. However, the indigenous peoples are trying their best to handle this is by planting the right foods that may be harvested before the hurricane season begins.

Q: What are the major water issues facing your people today?

A: Water issues are mostly affecting people who live in the rural interior areas as well as in the outer islands that belong to the Fiji Group. Sometimes, when there is prolonged rainfall for a very long period of time, their drinking water is affected so much. This is because they are getting water from wells dug in the ground. And when the rains continue, salt water from the sea also disturbs the ground water, thus causing difficulty in access to safe drinking water. Prolonged water shortages – sometimes, certain areas in Fiji face a prolonged water shortage because of broken pipes and the time it takes for the government workers to get these pipes fixed. Other times, when there is a prolonged drought, our water system is very much affected. Wells dry up, the water levels in dams that provide water to the country decreases and, therefore, water pressure is reduced to allow for sufficient use of water to sustain the people.



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