quilt21

By Sharon Hill, The Windsor Star

The cheery yellow background of the quilt block belies the jarring image of a man running away from his wife and children.

The woman walks leaning on a tall stick, and in Uganda where disability can be seen as a curse, she is one to be abandoned.

But she is not forsaken by Windsor’s Dane Macri.

He gathered the stories of northern Ugandans facing disabilities and discrimination quilt block by quilt block in 2012. This summer, volunteers with disabilities in Windsor pieced together the 20 blocks in a quilt that will be unveiled Nov. 28.

“It’s just trying to give a voice to those who have a voice but their voice isn’t being heard,” Macri said this week.

People with disabilities in developing countries are the most marginalized, he said. Two of 10 people are disabled in Uganda mostly through war and health issues made worse by poverty, he said. Land-mine victims. Polio victims.

“There’s a pervasive lack of accessibility,” Macri recalled from his visits in 2011 and 2012. “There is only one accessible toilet in an area for 300,000 people. So if you have a disability there’s really limited means to have a dignified way to simply use the washroom.”

A second accessible facility has been added since his visit but still it means travelling five to 15 kilometres by wheelchair to find an accessible toilet, he said. In Uganda, many washrooms are holes in a floor which means some people have to crawl out of their wheelchairs to the hole in the floor.

Denish Opoka Ojara is in his early 20s and had polio. He has dreams of playing wheelchair basketball in the Olympics for his country. (courtesy of Dane Macri)Denish Opoka Ojara is in his early 20s and had polio. He has dreams of playing wheelchair basketball in the Olympics for his country. (courtesy of Dane Macri)

Women with disabilities in northern Uganda making quilt blocks. (courtesy of Dane Macri)Women with disabilities in northern Uganda making quilt blocks. (courtesy of Dane Macri)

Macri said some children born with a disability such as cerebral palsy are only fed once a day to limit their defecation. Some children are abandoned or left with grandparents who are unable to carry the child.

Macri, 27, travelled to Uganda in 2011 to teach former child soldiers. He was living next to a disability centre and was coaching the wheelchair basketball team. He returned in 2012 with the Washington-based Advocacy Project which helps marginalized communities. Lately they’ve been making advocacy quilts.

“The quilt tells many stories,” Macri said. “Some are powerful. Some are inspiring. Some deal with some things that might be tough to hear so it’s quite an eclectic mix. Even though some of them might be hard to hear, I think just because it’s hard to hear, it’s still important to hear.”

The woman who sewed the block depicting the fleeing man is Florence Acen, a 23-year-old self-employed seamstress who has polio and can’t use her right leg.

Another polio victim who told his story in a quilt block is Denish Opoka Ojara, now 22, who has a dream to play wheelchair basketball in the Olympics. “Disability is not inability” Ojara told Macri.

Deborah Dunlop, a Windsor quilter who has been involved in other community quilt projects, said it took her about 40 hours to complete the quilting. “To read their stories while I was doing the quilt blocks was very emotional, I have to admit. Very sad stories.”

Macri hopes schools and organizations here and in Toronto will hear about the quilt and be willing to display it before it goes to the Washington-based Advocacy Project and back to Uganda. He hopes the quilt moves people to compassion and action.

“Every time that you think of poverty, I think very few people would think of disability as well,” Macri said. “I hope it will really open people’s eyes to universality of disability and hopefully make a greater call to us as a community to provide equity.”

The quilt will be unveiled Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the atWalkerville Artists’ Co-op 1974 Wyandotte Street East.

There is no cost to attend but donations will be accepted towards the Advocacy Project which is working in northern Uganda for more accessible washrooms. You can also donate or learn more at advocacynet.org/partners/gdpu.

Florence Acen, who has polio and uses a walking pole, made a quilt block to tell the story of husbands and fathers in Uganda who often leave their families because of a disability. (courtesy of Dane Macri)Florence Acen, who has polio and uses a walking pole, made a quilt block to tell the story of husbands and fathers in Uganda who often leave their families because of a disability. (courtesy of Dane Macri)