Pioneering effort in helping the disabled from the rural areas of North Macedonia

The participants of the panel discussion at the closing conference. From left to right: Biljana Petrovska Mitrevska, Project Coordinator at partner organisation NFF, Regional Director of We Effect Europe Anneli Leina, Swedish Ambassador Kristin Forsgren Bengtsson, Vaska Mojsovska, President of partner organisation NFF, Ratko Duev, Dean of Faculty of Philosophy and Vladimir Lazovski, Disability and Inclusion Advisor at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. Photo by Ljiljana Mitevska, We Effect.

From Disability to FoodAbility is a unique project realized for the past two and a half years in North Macedonia aimed at elevating the living conditions of the disabled persons in the rural areas and contributing towards building a just and inclusive society. The closing conference for the project highlighted the main achievements focused on fighting discrimination and intolerance towards the disabled and promotion of equitable and sustainable rural development.

“This was a pioneering effort in terms of creating enabling environments by, for and with persons with disabilities from the rural areas of North Macedonia. The aim of the project was ensuring improved livelihood and greater food security for them, while special attention was paid to women with disabilities who are often subjected to double discrimination due to their gender and disability status. We are proud that together with our partner NFF we contributed towards creating better rural environment that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable for everyone,” said Anneli Leina, Regional Director of We Effect Europe at the closing conference for the project that took place on 10 of December, at hotel Alexander Palace in Skopje, North Macedonia.

The conference highlighted the conducted activities and the achieved results during the implementation of the project focused on elevating the living conditions of the disabled persons living in the rural areas. This was done by establishing kitchen gardens for the disabled with a possibility of a year-round production for their own needs and an opportunity to sell the surplus on the farm or to other social food businesses.

Additionally, trainings for self-representation and advocacy were provided so that the voice of the disabled people living in the rural areas can be heard in the local communities and on national level. The ultimate goal of the project was contributing towards building a just and inclusive society.

“For us, inclusion and reduction of stigma around disabilities is of outmost importance. And at the end of the day, it’s about human dignity. That’s why the results of this project are very important,” said Kristina Henschen, Secretary General of the donor Radiohjälpen, in her recorded message for the event.

The conference was also attended by Kristin Forsgren Bengtsson, Ambassador of Sweden in the Republic of North Macedonia, giving her support and encouragement for further development work in this area.

“Swedish development cooperation should fund the most vulnerable groups in a sustainable way. And this project is doing exactly that! I hope that this serves as an inspiration, but also that there is foundation build now that can be replicated by others in near future,” said Ambassador Kristin Forsgren Bengtsson.

On this note, Regional Director Anneli Leina added: “We Effect and NFF have set the ball rolling, now we’ll see who is going to catch it. It has to be caught, anything else is unthinkable. Everybody has the right to function differently!”

In this context, the words of Slavica Dimovska, a person with a disability who was one of the beneficiaries of the project, resonate strongly. “We will fight until the end! We will not give up,” she said. At the conference she emphasized that the support provided by We Effect and partner organization NFF through this project is a ray of light for her, that has encouraged many in the village to be more supportive and helpful. “I need help, loneliness is difficult. It means a lot to me for someone to visit me once a week, to communicate with me,” said Slavica.

“In these difficult times it is necessary to show humanity, sobriety, to lend a helping hand to the people with disabilities, who have become invisible in the society, forgotten, excluded and existentially at the very bottom. The project has taken a small but very important step for this vulnerable group of citizens. The voice of the people with disabilities was heard in the rural areas. Awareness for initiating actions in support of people with disabilities in the rural areas was raised. Through this project, many families received investments to improve their livelihood, as well as encouragement to work, to create and to feel useful in society,” said Vaska Mojsovska, President of the NFF.

The panel discussion was enriched also with insights coming from Vladimir Lazovski, Disability and Inclusion Advisor at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ratko Duev, Dean of Faculty of Philosophy, Natasha Stanojkovska from the Institute for Special Education and Rehabilitation at the Philosophy Faculty, and other representatives of our partner organisation, as well as few beneficiaries of the project.

In total, the conference brought together over 50 participants, representatives of national institutions, organizations, people with disabilities and relevant stakeholders from all over North Macedonia, as well as many more present online via the Zoom platform.

As a sign of gratitude for the groundbreaking work in this area We Effect and Radiohjälpen received certificates of appreciation from the National Federation of Framers (NFF).

The project From Disability to FoodAbility started in August 2019 and is closing at the end of 2021.

Written by

Ljiljana Mitevska