Stepping Stones to the Land of the Living

By Susan Gray Dueck

I spoke about the
importance of
disabled women
telling their messages
to the world, the
inherent significance
of these stories, and
the power of writing.

On Sunday, February 10,1991, forty-one women with disabilities arrived at the splendid Hotel President in San Salvador, El Salvador. Dressed for cocktails, they watched each other across the tables of carefully arranged wine and cheese at the kick-off event for a week-long seminar entitled, "Disabled Women and Functional Literacy." These women had arrived from all over Central America: Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador. They had come to learn about writing.

Months prior to this Sunday evening, each of these women had received publicity information that explained the upcoming seminar and invited them to partake in the event. And so they had bought tickets, found funding, packed suitcases and traveled to San Salvador. For many, this was the first time they had ever ventured from their villages, the first time they had ever had the chance to come to something as momentous as a week-long seminar. And now here they sat, dark eyes taking in everything in their midst, women from different countries exchanging tentative greetings. Although some women would use the hotel toilets as washtubs (because they had never before seen these white structures) while others had left behind their maids and houseboys, every woman in attendance sought knowledge. Every woman in the room had a disability and craved empowerment within societies that see them as sick, helpless and pitiful.

Sitting in that room, flanked by Spanish / English interpreters (provided for me by the organizers of the conference) I was struck by the undercurrent of urgency. I had arrived only an hour before and my home in snowy freezing Winnipeg seemed a vague half-memory, obscured by the heat and the beauty of the El Salvador darkness. I had been sent from Canada as a consultant for the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (C.O.P.O.H.), a national advocacy organization of people with disabilities. For many months, COPOH staff had worked together with members of ACOGIPRI (a self-help organization of people with disabilities in El Salvador) to plan this project. The groups had joined as partners in developing the seminar, making arrangements and acquiring funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

Pierres de gué pour atteindre le Royaume des vivants
par Susan Gray Dueck

En février 1991, quarante et une femmes de toute l'Amérique centrale sont arrivées à San Salvador (Salvador) pour assister pendant une semaine à un séminaire sur "Les femmes handicapées et l'alphabétisation fonctionnelle". Parmi ces femmes, beaucoup n'avaient jamais eu auparavant l'occasion de quitter leur village ou de parler de la lecture et de l'écriture.

La Coalition des organisations provinciales Ombudsman des handicapés m'avait envoyée au séminaire pour présenter un article sur la coproduction d'une anthologie internationale de textes écrits par des femmes handicapées. Mon intuition me poussa à parler plutôt d'un autre sujet, soit de l'importance qu'il y a à ce que les femmes handicapées se racontent, du sens profond de leurs récits et du pouvoir de l'écriture.

Les femmes qui m'écoutèrent furent enthousiasmées par les implications de mon message. Elles étaient nombreuses à se sentir seules et isolées au début du séminaire, mais elles en partirent fortes d'un nouveau sens de leur pouvoir et déterminées à faire en sorte que l'on réponde à leurs besoins et à propager leurs récits.

Quant à moi, je quittais San Salvador pleine d'admiration pour ces femmes passionnées qui pouvaient avoir des rapports dépourvus de la moindre inhibition et timidité. Nous ferions bien au Canada de communiquer aussi librement que les Salvadoriennes.

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