Australian volunteers make big waves with small grants

10 July 2017

In July 2017, 20 volunteers through the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program were awarded Disability Initiative Grants. These small grants will strengthen disability-inclusive development in ten countries across the Indo-Pacific. The awardees proposed projects ranging from the construction of a wheelchair access ramp at a primary school in the Philippines to supporting people with disabilities to produce a weekly radio show in Timor-Leste.

This is the fourth round of AVID Disability Initiative Grants, which are supported by the Australian Government. To date, 58 Australian volunteers have been awarded grants of up to AUD$1,000 to implement small projects promoting equal opportunities, capacity development and collaboration on disability-inclusive development. The grants support a twin-track approach, ensuring that people with disability are involved – as both beneficiaries and as agents of change.

The work of previous awardees has proven catalytic for people with disabilities in their communities. For Rachel Brindal in Bhutan, a Disability Initiative Grant was the beginning of a new nation-wide approach to engaging deaf pre-school children. Samantha Suendermann's grant enabled her to challenge community perceptions of people with disability in Vanuatu through surfing.

Sign language for young deaf children in Bhutan

When Australian volunteer Rachel Brindal started working with Bhutan's only school for the deaf, she discovered there was no educational support available for deaf children before the age of six. Starting school is particularly challenging for children without language skills. Even before they start school, their ability to build relationships within their own families is hampered without a shared method of communication. Together with her colleagues from the Wangsel Institute, Rachel developed a resource to help young deaf children and their families to learn basic Bhutanese Sign Language.

Rachel in the classroom. Credit: Scope Global.

'Communicating with young deaf children' is a video produced in partnership with the Royal Education Council and funded with the help of an AVID Disability Initiative Grant. The video includes more than 300 signs relevant to young children and interviews of parents, teachers and Deaf students who speak of their experiences learning a shared language.

The video is multilingual, presented in Bhutanese Sign Language with Dzongkha voiceover and English subtitles. With the help of the grant, 150 copies of the video were made. It was then launched by Her Majesty, the Queen of Bhutan on International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2016 and with the support of Bhutan's Ministry of Education, uploaded to YouTube. The national broadcaster, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, is also planning to share them on television to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Filming for the DVD. Credit: Rachel Brindal

"The project has been well received, not only by families with children who are deaf but also for service providers that are supporting children with communication impairments," says Rachel. "From my own experience, after giving a DVD to a family with a four-year-old boy who is deaf, I saw them using some signs within a week that they had learnt from the DVD. I couldn't have been more delighted!"

Wangsel Institute's youngest student with the DVD. Credit: Rachel Brindal

Surfing breaks down barriers to inclusion in Vanuatu

Samantha Suendermann is another Australian volunteer who was inspired to create opportunities for people with disabilities with an AVID Disability Initiative Grant. Sam and her colleagues at the Vanuatu Surfing Association (VSA) used a grant to launch Surfability, one of the first targeted sporting programs for people with disabilities in Vanuatu.

Surfability in Vanuatu. Credit: Darren James.

"Sport has the unique ability to bring a variety of people together, and the VSA wants to champion the inclusion and integration of people with a disability into Vanuatu life, culture and everyday activities," Sam says. "This program aims to give the surfing community the chance to interact at a face level and in a safe space to break down the barriers that society and culture have imposed."

Samantha Suendermann at Surfability. Credit: Darren James.

The VSA partnered with the Vanuatu Society for People with a Disability and The Rainbow Theatre to find the 25 participants of the program. The launch was held during VSA's inaugural international surfing competition, the Leimalo Surf Festival, and involved surfers from across Vanuatu travelling to Pango Village to help coach and run the event.

"Surfing is so much fun!" said Surfability participant Sergio Moses. "I wanted to surf for the whole day. It makes me so happy and I can't wait to go again! I am so grateful for this opportunity."

Participants learning to surf weren't the only ones to benefit. "This was the first time I have been able to closely work with and get to know someone with a disability," says Steve Lannie, a surfer from Pele. "I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot about myself and my new friends."

Learning to surf. Credit: Darren James.

Last Updated: 10 July 2017