As part of Ghana Somubi Dwumadie (Ghana Participation Programme), 45 inclusion ambassadors have been recruited to tackle negative attitudes, discrimination and stigma against people with disabilities and mental health conditions in Ghana.
In November 2020, a formative study conducted by Ghana Somubi Dwumadie found that negative attitudes, discrimination and stigma related to disability, including mental health conditions, are widespread in Ghana. This presents a major barrier to equitably accessing education, health and social opportunities.
In Ghana, there are few programmes addressing the stigma and discrimination faced by people with disabilities and mental health conditions. Launched in January 2020, Ghana Somubi Dwumadie is a four-year disability programme with a specific focus on mental health that aims to tackle stigma and discrimination. The programme is funded by UK aid and run by a consortium led by Options; consortium members include Basic Needs Ghana, King’s College London, Sightsavers, and Tropical Health.
Ghana Somubi Dwumadie focuses on four key areas:
In December 2021, the programme launched a call for proposals for civil society organisations, organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) and self-help groups (whose members have first-hand experience of particular life or health issues) to apply for funding to carry out social behaviour change (SBC) activities.
SBC is about influencing people to carry out healthy and inclusive behaviours and creating a supportive environment for these to flourish. It can create long-lasting positive impacts on a wide variety of health areas. SBC is an important approach in reducing stigma because it promotes social inclusion by shifting harmful norms and negative stereotypes.
One of the five organisations that successfully applied for funding was VOICE Ghana, an organisation of people with disabilities. As part of the implementation, VOICE Ghana proposed recruiting inclusion ambassadors as one of the project’s strategies. An inclusion ambassador is an influential person with or without a disability who is selected by community leaders and self-help groups to advocate and spearhead issues relating to the rights of people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions. Inclusion ambassadors are unique as they are influential people from a variety of backgrounds who are role models in their communities. This status enables them to potentially bring about change in community behaviour.
We believe everyone has the right to learn, earn and be happy, which is why we promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities, including mental health conditions.Our disability work
How were the ambassadors recruited?
VOICE Ghana visited all 20 programme communities in the Volta and Oti regions and held discussions with traditional and religious leaders and self-help groups. The aim of these meetings was to identify influential community members, including people with disabilities, who could be trained as ambassadors, and to build support from traditional and religious leaders to implement the project in their communities.
A total of 45 ambassadors were selected to support VOICE Ghana’s SBC activities in their respective communities. They all come from different backgrounds (such as teachers, assembly members and religious leaders) and the group includes both people with and without disabilities.
What does an inclusion ambassador do?
The ambassadors received training on Ghana Somubi Dwumadie’s formative study findings, disability legislative frameworks, the proper use of SBC communication materials such as posters and radio jingles, and what it means to be a champion for change.
The role of an inclusion ambassador is to:
After their training, ambassadors received certificates to serve as evidence and to reward their input and effort. It is hoped that this will make them feel part of the project from its inception.
What will they do next?
VOICE Ghana will support the ambassadors to write action plans with creative activities to persuade community members and leaders to influence more positive behaviours towards people with disabilities and mental health conditions. Examples of activities include displaying information posters at mosques, churches and community centres; engaging chiefs at their palaces; and playing awareness-raising jingles on the radio.
VOICE Ghana will also ensure the sustainability of the project by working closely with communities to support and incentivise the ambassadors. There will be continuous communication between VOICE Ghana and Ghana Somubi Dwumadie to keep their work on track.
My experience meeting the ambassadors
In March 2022, a monitoring team from Ghana Somubi Dwumadie, including Sightsavers’ global technical lead on SBC, the Ghana Somubi Dwumadie’s grants adviser and monitoring evaluation and learning officer, visited VOICE Ghana’s office in Ho. The team took part in a workshop with the inclusion ambassadors and visited a community to see their work in action. Having been involved with VOICE Ghana’s original application and work plan review, I was impressed by the role that the ambassadors were playing in reducing stigma and discrimination.
The ambassadors were happy to be part of the project, understood their roles and were positive about the work they were doing. They are now embarking on community sensitisation on the radio and at information centres, and carrying out home visits to families and caregivers of people with disabilities.
The monitoring team spoke highly of the ambassadors and praised their commitment and enthusiasm. I have a strong conviction that they will serve as a model of practice for others to emulate and will create real change in reducing stigmatising behaviours faced by people with disabilities and people with mental health conditions.
Joseph Mensah is Sightsavers’ technical adviser for civil society organisation grants and social movement. He is based in Ghana.
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