By Michael Liswaniso OPUWO Kunene Region’s Chief Medical Officer and Acting Regional Director for the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Dr Ebong Okpabio, officially inaugurated the National Federation of People with Disabilities in Namibia (NFPDN)’s office in the regional capital of Opuwo last week, Friday. He stepped into the shoes of the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Petrina Haingura, who was earmarked to officially inaugurate the office. The office started operating in Opuwo in the middle of the year, but the official unveiling of the plaque was witnessed on Friday. The office aims at empowering people with disabilities in the most disadvantaged regions of the country so that most have access to improved support services and to participate fully in all aspects of society. The office also aims at reducing the stigma and misconception about disability issues by increasing public awareness, according to NFPDN. A music performance by the long-serving band of Opuwo, Bullet ya Kaoko, signalled the start of the occasion. Hundreds of people witnessed the event at the old magistrates building where the office space is located. The building forms part of a chain of other buildings along the busiest avenue of the town, Mbumbijazo Muharukua. On behalf of Regional Governor, Dudu Murorua, to welcome the delegation from Windhoek which was made up of the Member of Parliament (MP), Alexia Manombe-Ncube, Chairperson of NFPDN, Martin Tjivera, as well as the Acting Secretary-General of NFPDN, Mike Matheus, was the Constituency Councillor for Epupa, Kasita Mburura. Mburura called all residents to desist from all kinds of discrimination against people with disabilities. He also jokingly said: “I am very dark myself and this, according to me, is a disability; therefore, you should not discriminate against me. It is God’s will and we should all be proud of whatever God has given us; in actual fact, we should be proud to be in whatever positions we are.” A senior traditional councillor representing the Otjikaoko traditional authority, Elizabeth Mukuma, who was given the floor to speak before the keynote address, bemoaned the fact that the office was for people with disabilities, but to her bemusement only a few of them turned up for the event whereas Opuwo has a large number of people with disabilities. She also thanked Government for its continued support for people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS and for the vulnerable. NFPDN’s Chairperson, Tjivera, who spoke via a sign language interpreter, requested Government to seriously consider the establishment of a National Disability Council soon whose Bill, according to him, was approved by Parliament in 2005. He said the Council would empower people with disabilities and enable them to participate in the country’s political, economic and social development. He also expressed appreciation to the European Union (EU) for sponsoring the five-year project branches in regions such as Kavango and Otjozondjupa where regional offices will be inaugurated. Presently, there are three operational branches – Oshakati in the Oshana region which was officially inaugurated last year, and now the inaugurated Kunene regional office and Khomas where the national head office is located. Delivering the keynote address on behalf of Haingura, Okpabio revealed that, according to the 2001 population and housing census, 5 percent of Namibians live with disabilities of whom 21 percent suffer from deafness, 35 percent blindness, 11 percent speech difficulties and 27 percent from disabilities affecting the hands and legs, while 5 percent suffer from mental defects. He added that the same census report reveals that 5 percent of the people live in Kunene, of which 18 percent suffer from deafness, 35 percent blindness, 16 percent speech difficulties, 45 percent with hand and leg disabilities, while a 5 percent suffer mental defects. “Physical disability is therefore a huge challenge facing Namibia generally,” he added. He said his ministry was being tasked with improving and maintaining the health and social well-being of all Namibians and views all issues of people living with disabilities seriously, as they deserve. “With the transfer of the Rehabilitation Division to my Ministry in March 2005 by His Excellency, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, my Ministry has embarked on the consolidation and strengthening of services to improve access and quality of services for people with disabilities. We have engaged our international and local development partners in this regard,” he noted. He said the needs of people with disabilities vary, adding that they are numerous, and for that reason each one in society is required to play a role, including his Ministry and other organizations. He commended the work done by the voluntary services overseas (VSO) so far. “I am reliably informed that much work has been done in the past two years in this regard in this region through the efforts of the VSO volunteers and other staff of my Ministry. Keep it up”. He also assured that his Ministry would continue to provide the enabling environment and other support services for people with disabilities in an effort to empower them to achieve their goals. “To this end, I commend the contribution of all individuals and organizations in the recent mass polio campaign. We should also strive to ensure that the menace of HIV/AIDS in our country is curtailed by joining hands with my Ministry and other organizations in our continued efforts to address the challenge. Our services for HIV/AIDS prevention and control should be made accessible to people with disabilities. I urge the staff that will be working in this office to display courtesy, empathy, understanding and commitment in the task ahead. I enjoin all people with disabilities to take ownership of this office and let it serve as a resource and treasure base for the organization and the communities in Kunene”. MP Ncube, who is also a person with a disability, said there was a difference between people living with disability and people with disability. “We should be able to differentiate because I do not live with a disability. I live with my husband. Therefore, the right word is people with disabilities, not people living with disabilities.” She thanked Government for implementing a national disability programme, as well as the EU and the VSO for entering into a partnership with NFPDN.