Saturday, July 6, 2013

International Alliances

Every year Little People of America hosts a national conference.  But attendance goes far beyond the borders of the United States.  At the 2013 Conference in Washington D.C., which wrapped up just a few days ago, there were people in attendance from at least 18 different countries, and from every continent except for Antarctica.  There was a lot of anticipation around the international delegations. 

In my case, I was particularly excited about the visitors from Uganda. Annet Nakyeyune is the founder of Little People of Uganda.    Little People of Uganda (LPU) started in 2007.  Since then, the founders have built a membership of more than 1,000.  Within the past few years, LPU started to correspond with Little People of America in the United States.  Part of that correspondence included the sharing organizational newsletters.  A few of the stories from the LPU Newsletter point out the differences between life in Uganda for a person with dwarfism compared to life in the United States for a person with dwarfism.  Most dwarfs who live in the United States can share many anecdotes that highlight discrimination and stigma that people of short stature encounter.  Sometimes the stories involve employment discrimination -- dwarfs have shared stories about being refused an interview because of their short stature; there are other stories of dwarfs who were denied reasonable accommodations.  Other stories involve the social stigma of difference that appears when dwarfs elicit stares, gawks, or photographs simply when they are walking down the street.  This type of marginalization can take a heavy toll on someone's life, from impacting their ability to make a living to impacting their self-esteem.  Though little people in the United States face challenges, I find it hard to complain compared to the challenges I know of now through learning about Little People of Uganda.  One of the LPU Newsletters included a story about a young man with dwarfism who had his baby taken away from him and murdered for no other reason than dwarfism.

With the story of the young man who lost his baby firmly implanted in my mind, I was thrilled to learn that Annet and her daughter Love planned to attended the 2013 National Conference in Washington, D.C.  Annet and her daughter's attendance would be a great way to strengthen the bond between LPU and LPA.  I hoped that the relationship between the two groups would be the start of an international coalition that could be used to fight on behalf of the Human Rights of people with dwarfism around the world. 
Annet of LPU presenting at General Assembly

Annet came to the conference equipped with stories about Uganda, which she shared with the LPA Board of Directors and with the membership at the General Assembly on Monday morning, July 1.  At both meetings, Annet ran through a power point presentation about LPU and dwarfism in Uganda.  The presentation included horrific information, about babies murdered because of dwarfism, about children caged for years at a time because of dwarfism, and about women who were repeatedly raped because of their dwarfism.  The stories and the facts were unbearable, but Annet presented in professional, formal style, showing little emotion. I don't know what she was thinking, but it seemed to me that she had to detach from the material emotionally, otherwise it would have been too overwhelming. 

Katie (wearing necklace from Uganda) and Gary.
Historically, not many people attend LPA's General Assembly.  Maybe 100 or 150 people attended on July 1 in Washington, D.C. But word of Annet's presentation soon spread and members not in attendance began asking what they could do to support LPU.  Jewelry that Annet and Love sold to raise money for LPU quickly sold out. 

My hope is that attendees of the 2013 LPA National Conference build on the energy that Annet and Love generated by attending the event.  I hope that we can all work together to build a coalition that supports our respective organizations and that supports international initiatives that raise awareness about dwarfism and that protect the rights of people with dwarfism.  Working together, we could generate the support needed for the Ratification of the International Disability Treaty in the United States and for implementation of the treaty around the world.  Working together, we could follow up on the idea of Little People Mexico and have the United Nations recognize October 25 as International Dwarfism Awareness Day. 

Annet and Love made a huge commitment to travel to the United States for LPA's Conference. Scores of other international attendees made a similar commitment.  Around the world, all of us should work hard and work together to find ways to follow up on that commitment.  Doing so, we could make significant progress individually and as a community.

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