Travel & GIVE Supports People With Disabilities in Africa (and America)

Photo Credit: Lawrence Miner for 82 Creative Studios.

( ENSPIRE News ) Travel & Give Founder Martine Harris Explains The Organization’s Mission

ENSPIRE Contributor: Gabel Strickland

Travel & GIVE is an organization that provides resources to people with disabilities and their families to ease the social, economic, legal, and educational obstacles people with disabilities face around the world. December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day dedicated to fostering international recognition and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. But for Travel & GIVE, every day is devoted to this mission. Travel & GIVE primarily operates in Haiti, Kenya, and Jamaica, but is expanding its outreach to the USA as well. However, Travel & GIVE’s founder, Martine Harris, has a special connection to the issue in Haiti. 

“My cousin was born in Haiti with a disability – and I witnessed how people who are labeled as ‘different’ are not given the same opportunities as people who are typically presenting. This is not only in Haiti, of course – when my cousin lived with us in the US, we would get funny looks and stares from people when we would speak sign language in public. My cousin [passed away] at the young age of 22, and I feel he is the one that pushes me to move forward with Travel & GIVE every day,” Harris said. “He proved to so many people while he was here that his ‘disability’ didn’t define him – he was brave, charismatic, funny, adventurous, outgoing, and kind, and people always wanted to be around him once some of them got over this weird, uncomfortable feeling of being around someone who was ‘different.’ Our mission is very important – I envision a world of inclusivity where people who have disabilities have a fair chance at life just as anyone else.” 

Photo Credit: Lawrence Miner for 82 Creative Studios.

People with disabilities have long been mistreated in Haiti, a reflection of a larger global trend. The World Bank cites a report it made in 2021 saying that, “people living with a disability [in Haiti] are over-represented among the groups at risk of falling into poverty. The report concludes that they are more likely to live in informal settlements, attend school for less time, and be often excluded from the labor market. People living with disabilities, especially in developing countries, have been found to have limited access to services and there is often a lack of infrastructure to allow them to fully participate in society.” The earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, left many people only aggravated this situation disabled because of injury. Progress has been made in socially destigmatizing disability and creating legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disability, but Human Rights Watch still found in a 2021 report that “although Haiti ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, its legislative framework has not been harmonized and includes offensive and discriminatory provisions against people with disabilities. People with disabilities continue experiencing discrimination in access to public services such as health, education, and justice and are at higher risk of suffering violence due to the significant social stigma and exclusion they face. Civil legislation restricts legal capacity for people with certain types of disabilities.” 

Discrimination against people with disabilities is, as mentioned above, a global issue that expands far beyond Haiti. According to a 2010 review submitted by Kenyan partners of the Disability Rights Promotion International, “in Kenya, a large percentage of adults with disabilities reported experiencing unequal and unfair treatment on the grounds of their disability. Of those reporting to have experienced discrimination, many individuals reported the denial of their right to self-determination and the ability to decide on issues affecting their own lives.” Even in the U.S., people with disabilities experience obstacles in health, employment, justice, and other areas of life as well. That is why Travel & GIVE has spread out its efforts to other countries. 

Photo Credit: Lawrence Miner for 82 Creative Studios.

“When we started doing work in Haiti, people were reaching out from around the world expressing a need for our services. I did not know that disability discrimination was a global issue – that children were getting turned away from schools because of their physical disabilities and families were being shunned by their communities for having a child with a disability. We are hearing similar stories in a lot of underdeveloped communities around the world,” Harris said. “When we were visiting Kenya in 2019, I met with someone who expressed the need for special education programs in schools in Nairobi – so we decided we would expand our mission to Kenya. Most recently,  we connected with an organization that notified us of the limited resources for people with disabilities in Jamaica, and from there, we connected with a member from the ministry of education and now plan to start our program in February 2023.” 

Organizations like the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and U.S. Aid have created organizations to combat these problems, and now Travel & GIVE is joining and strengthening that effort. According to Harris, one of Travel & GIVE’s biggest successes is their TeleHealth Program Haiti & Kenya, which allows people with disabilities to get in touch with medical professionals via TeleHealth’s online platform. This is important not just because of social distancing restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because “Within many villages in Haiti, people believe that a person’s disability is contagious, and therefore they avoid interactions, limit social and educational opportunities, and in turn isolate the child.” The Travel & GIVE team implemented the program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which isolated people with disabilities in other countries from their resources and put a financial strain on Travel & GIVE’s mission. In this way, they turned one of their largest challenges into their greatest achievement. 

“We created the Telehealth program during COVID – the pandemic forced the team to be innovative and create a program that is accessible to our partners 24/7, whereas prior to the pandemic, our partners only had access to us when we were in-country,” Harris said. “

Travel & GIVE is also focused on providing educational resources to students, families, and professionals in different countries that can foster inclusion for people with disabilities. According to Harris, Travel & GIVE’s professional development workshops and programs (like their Professional Development in Haiti initiative) aim to educate parents, educators, caregivers, and community members on a variety of subjects, like how to identify children with learning disabilities in the classroom and how to change lessons to target all ways of learning. Travel and GIVE’s Stocking Libraries in Jamaica program was a book drive that provided new educational materials to students in St. James Parish, Jamaica. According to professionals, these programs are making a real impact overseas. 

“A director from an orphanage told me that as Travel & GIVE volunteers modeled ‘circle time’ with the children in the morning, it was the first time she had seen some children smile. She even said that some kids that they labeled as ‘mute’ were seen speaking and engaging in the circle time songs,” Harris recounted.

“Another teacher in Haiti pulled me aside after a session and asked me to promise to return because our 5-hour workshop will change his teaching style for the remainder of his career.” 

Travel & GIVE also conducts plenty of drives in the U.S. for things like food, toys, and more. In 2017 they started a drive to gather hygiene supplies for Texans struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey 2017. In the future, Harris says she would like to start programs in Los Angeles and New York City that provide mental health resources and guidance for inner-city youth. Activities would include sound baths, meditation, journaling, and yoga. 

Travel & GIVE is currently conducting a donation campaign for their organization. According to Harris, donations have declined since the COVID-19 pandemic, and “the biggest struggle we encounter is transitioning from operating through income based on donations, into finding an effective way to establish other revenue streams that are sustainable.” Therefore, perhaps your celebrations of International Persons with Disabilities day this year will include contributing to Travel and GIVE’s mission, which you can do by donating to the organization or purchasing merch on their website.

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