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Considering Empowerment: Stories of Self-Advocacy from South Africa

Dr. Jean Elphick speaks at HPOD

Conspiracy of Silence 
Illustration of boy wearing a t shirt that says Voice on the back, hammering away from a stone wall with the word Silence on it.

A group of determined mothers tirelessly campaign for their children’s rights to free, inclusive education. Children from a school for learners with educational support needs become the leaders in a peer education movement to teach young people about human rights. Using posters and colour, children raise their voices to break the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding child abuse and violence in South Africa.

  Woman marching in protest

Three of the many stories shared by Dr Jean Elphick during a lecture in Professor Michael Stein’s Harvard Kennedy School class and a lunchtime talk at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability (HPOD), in late March 2018.

  Advocates pointing to sign about South African Human Rights Commission

Jean is the manager of the Empowerment Programme at Afrika Tikkun, a large South African NGO based in Johannesburg and Cape Town. HPOD and Beit Issie Shapiro are among Africka Tikkun’s partners.  The Empowerment Programme focusses on embedding a culture of inclusion, child safeguarding and an understanding of human rights among the 4000 children and youth that access Afrika Tikkun community centres each day. Using an empowerment approach to mobilise marginalised groups of people (like families of children with disabilities, children and youth) from the five impoverished communities where Afrika Tikkun works, the Programme provides:

·         innovative human rights and anti-bias education,

·         supports the development of peer-led self-advocacy groups,

·         supports advocacy campaigns 

·         and provides social support services on an individual basis to those who need it.

  Woman holding questionnaire about disability rights

In addition, the Programme supports over 350 Afrika Tikkun staff to practice inclusion, non-discrimination and child safeguarding. From undertaking a harrowing baseline study in 2010, to enjoying hearing the voices of hundreds of self-advocates today, the presentations illustrated that persons with disabilities and their families and allies can claim their human rights when working in unison.  

  Man in front of bookcase, holding book on self-advocacy

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