“We Are Sailing Stormy Waters in a Shared Boat”

“We Are Sailing Stormy Waters in a Shared Boat”

This is what most of our Turkish friends agreed at the end of the study visit to Bulgaria hosted by the CIL – Sofia team as a part of a joined project with ENIL and RUSIHAK in Istanbul, Turkey. The purpose of the study visit was to raise awareness of the disability organisations in Turkey regarding the social model of disabilities and independent living for disabled people with the bottom-line effect to enhance the creation of indigenous ILNET in Turkey. Thus five disabled people with different impairments and their personal assistants visited CIL – Sofia in the period 5th – 10th April 2015 exploring the situation of disabled Bulgarians, learning about the organisation’s daily work, meeting other disability organisations, setting up new contacts and friendships to support the network in the future and enable Turkish activists to decide how to better promote independent living within their own organisations and Turkish society at large.

It seemed that the nature of CILs as organisations run and controlled by disabled people was not a novelty to the Turkish participants. The principles of equal treatment of all human beings, social model of disabilities and human rights of the disabled citizens however triggered heated discussions around the notion of “rights” and “benefits”, “impairment specific” vs “cross-disability” organisations, types of support to disabled people, which should encourage them to live independently in the community. Meetings with Bulgarian self-advocates for independent living, among which were people with mental health problems and wheelchair users of personal assistance left deep memories with the Turkish guests: Living in the institutions together and being isolated from society (being imprisoned) is no longer good for us. In the past, this idea seemed to be attractive, yet we understand from our painful experiences that this is just an illusion. Now, we have to fight against institutionalization. Disabled people need awareness raising about their rights and get education in any field they like.

This insight came from Fikret Bektaş, a brilliant young fellow residing at Tuzla Hope Group Home in Istanbul after the series of meetings with human rights advocates from Bulgarian Centre for Non-for-profit Law (BCNL), advocating for Art. 12 of the UN CRPD (legal capacity of disabled people); Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) advocating for deinstitutionalisation and Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights Foundation running strategic litigation for disability rights.

At the end of the visit participants seemed to be MOTIVATED to live independently themselves with personal assistance and peer support (when needed), COMMITTED to work for social change in disability policies allowing disabled people to live in the communities of their own choice and WILLING TO VOLUNTEER for RUSIHAK in their advocacy activities and efforts to set up and run ILNET in Turkey.

Ege Kolcu – a student at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University – quoted Don Quixote in his feedback on the study visit: Some people need to be woken up. Some need to turn their ways of perception upside down and make them see that they live in a pretty unreliable and weird world; that they are not in the kind of world they suppose.

More information about the project can be found here.

Photo: Project partners from CIL Sofia and RUSHIAK.

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