When the digital visual platform StoryTeld featured a young man living with disability in November, the video garnered a lot of views. Awareness too. There was a lot of sympathy and compassion in the comments. All great. A reminder of our existent albeit limited consciousness and compassion for minority groups. Then again the only minorities we seem to have compassion for are those whose resistance is a physical manifestation of what we deem unfortunate and you know, regrettable. But I digress. The comments – a significant amount of which were of faith-based commiserations – and messages of hope in God’s promises that you’re likely to hear at your local church on any given Sunday is why I am here again.
Whether it is our colonized mindsets or our understandably large leaning towards Abrahamic faiths as a coping mechanism; it appears we are on the verge of conflating our growing apathy with trust in our Lord. And maybe we know this already. Like the observation-based study that places the majority of developing nations in the religious basket has already shown us; our faiths act as a solace when we are overwhelmed by vicious cycles of poverty, bad governance and failing systems. Now, of course this is not to infantilize the beliefs of believers. As a person who has made manifestations to a superpower and experienced the results, I know better than to do that. My loud criticisms of religion notwithstanding.
Yet, and indulge me here, maybe some of the answers we can get even before we approach God. Maybe, just maybe, (if you’re clenching your fist right now, just give me a minute) some of the misfortunes or failure to address thereof, are our own doing. Take for example Achol, the young man in the StoryTeld feature; a stray bullet hit his spine when he was 11. For 11 years, Achol walked. Until one of the lesser catastrophic results of a machine gun put him in a wheelchair. Whether it was gunfire from a robbery, or the familiar pattern of law enforcement activities wasn’t clear. But that was only the beginning of Achol’s troubles. Achol is shunned by taxi drivers who apparently have not the time to fold his chair and carry him into the vehicle in their pursuit of the shilling. God did not take away their empathy. We can blame frustration or their flat out poor character here. He also can’t access the pavements in the city because the authorities did not think to build ramps there.
We might say here that guns in the right hands are necessary. (Are they though?) And that maybe Achol’s is just one case in the string of collateral in the aftermath of gun use. Yet that collateral damage results into him still living. This time as a person with disability. So for a culture that has been aware of the existence of persons with disabilities regardless of the cause being polio or road accidents, there’s no reason that there shouldn’t be a transportation plan and sidewalks for them. And we can start there. We can, in the same way we respond to the ID crisis, become raving mad and loudly challenge our leaders with whom resources and decision making power rests, to act. In the meantime, even the pastors and Christians can use their approach and preach empathy to taxi drivers. A prayer meeting in the old park, perhaps. Who knows. Our presidential hopefuls can include PWDs on their list of development and poverty alleviation.
Achol’s is not just a misfortune that must be left only in the hands of a supernatural. It is an injustice. First by a stray bullet, then by an inaccessible transportation system. It is a situation that can be made better. By us cultivating a culture of empathy and understanding. By our leaders armed with our taxes and budgetary switchcodes doing the bare minimum for Ugandans. But we must realize that civil, legal and even moral liability before we go dropping, “the bible says be strong”s and “God loved you”s in the comment section. We must realise that perhaps this same apathy clothed in religion is why we get Bible verse responses from the education ministry in the face of a fees hike crisis. It is the normalisation of these responses that prompts a government official to organize his keyboard and send thoughts and prayers to panicked Ugandan students seeking evacuation from Wuhan.
And yes Jesus, as per his heavenly duty must, shall always take the wheel because as Kanye raps, Jesus Walks indeed. But while he walks through our war with terrorism and in this case, disability, can we also come to the awareness of the war we’re at with ourselves? A choice between right and wrong. One between apathy and empathy. Perhaps more importantly, a choice to make a deliberate effort towards building an inclusive present and future for us all.