In a makeshift classroom at the Don Orione Center for Children with Disabilities in Bombouaka, a small village in northern Togo, sits Kodjo, a 14 year old in a wheelchair. As he does on most days, Kodjo helps one of his classmates with his homework before a football match in an act of kindness and solidarity.
In Togo, 5-10% of children have a disability, and they are subjected to widespread stigmatization, routinely hidden and excluded from educational opportunities. Marginalized, they become adults with little means of independence. People with disabilities – especially children – are vulnerable and many become targets for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Violence and even death at the hands of their caretakers often goes unreported.
The stigma comes from a lack of education and understanding. Disability is often seen as proof of a curse or a sign of possession, and some conditions are feared to be contagious.
Almost two-thirds of Togolese people live below the poverty line and resources for the disabled has not traditionally been a priority. Since 2016, however, the government has invested more into supporting people with disabilities, though significant challenges remain in ensuring that disabled people can exercise their full rights and freedoms.