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How inclusion ambassadors are reducing disability stigma and discrimination in Ghana

Joseph Mensah, April 2022
A large group of people gather together for a photo outside a building. Some people are seated, some are standing and there is a man in a wheelchair at the front of the group.

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:

  • Promoting stronger policies and systems that respect the rights of people with disabilities, including people with mental health disabilities
  • Scaling up high-quality and accessible mental health services
  • Reducing stigma and discrimination
  • Generating evidence to inform policy and practice on the effectiveness of disability and mental health programmes and interventions

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.

Two young men speak to each other in sign language. One wears a yellow t-shirt and holds crutches, the other wears a blue striped t-shirt.

Why is inclusion important?

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
A large group of people sit in a circle outside in a shaded area next to a building.
Community leaders meet with inclusion ambassadors in Mafi-Awakpedome, in Ghana’s Volta region.

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:

  • Support VOICE Ghana’s community activities to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions, in their communities
  • Use the SBC communication materials to inform, educate and influence change at the community level and among their target audience
  • Encourage people with disabilities in their respective communities to report any possible abuse directly to VOICE Ghana
  • Inform VOICE Ghana about any possible abuse that has been reported by people with disabilities in their communities
  • Encourage and facilitate the process for people with disabilities to take up leadership roles in their communities
  • Facilitate the process for people with disabilities to be fully included in their communities and decision-making processes

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.

A man shakes hands and gives a woman a certificate for completing her inclusion ambassador training. Behind them at a table, three women look on.
An inclusion ambassador receiving her certificate after completing the training.
A large group of people sit at tables in a room where they are receiving training to become inclusion ambassadors.
Inclusion ambassadors attending a training session.

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.

“I have a strong conviction that the ambassadors will serve as a model of practice for others to emulate.”

Author


Joseph Mensah is Sightsavers’ technical adviser for civil society organisation grants and social movement. He is based in Ghana.

 

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