Channeling Remittances from Disabled Emigrants

Posted on 25 August 2007. Filed under: Immigration, Opinion, Remittances | Tags: , , , , , , |

When we talk about fighting poverty, disease, ignorance, and hunger in developing countries–among people with disabilities or otherwise–most of the time we think of donors as being a key part of the solution. We think of local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), or development banks, or bi-lateral donors (i.e., the governments of rich countries). Some of us also remember to think of poor people with disabilities in developing countries themselves as being part of the solution to their own problems. What they need isn’t more handouts. Often, what they need is education, training, tools, resources, and funding to back their own ideas for how they can escape poverty and improve their lives.

But how many of us stop to think of how we could harness the energy, passion, and–yes–the dollars, Euros, and Pesos of expatriates with disabilities in supporting their disabled peers who never left home?

It seems that at least some non-disabled immigrants do work together to find ways to use their money to help not only their families but also entire communities in their homeland. For one example, see this news article entitled “South Florida Guatemalans to learn how remittances can help homeland.” According to this article, in one county in Florida, USA, the local Jewish community has experience supporting community projects in Israel. And they have been teaching lessons learned from their experiences to the local Guatemalan immigrant community so that they, too, can use their remittances to strengthen the Guatemalan economy. The local Guatemalan immigrant community raises money support schools, clinics, and agricultural cooperatives at home. Byt doing that, they can help their loved ones and their neighbors find hope and opportunity without needing to leave Guatemala.

How do we ensure that people with disabilities, too, can benefit from projects supported by remittances?

One important approach would be to work with immigrant communities, such as the Guatemalan community of South Florida, that are already coordinating efforts to support projects at home. We need to systematically educate them about the importance of ensuring that the schools and clinics they build are accessible to people with disabilities. And we need to reach out to them so they understand why they should ensure that disabled people, too, actively participate in agricultural cooperatives.

In the long run, this may be the more promising approach. If all projects are segregated–these projects for non-disabled people, and those projects for disabled people–then people with disabilities will always be the ones who lose the most. Because there will always be more money going to the projects for non-disabled people than there is to projects for disabled people. If mainstream projects funded by predominantly non-disabled emigrants exclude people with disabilities, even if only by accident or through ignorance, then disabled people in developing countries could lose out on major opportunities for gaining an education, improving their health, or training for a better-paid job.

But, don’t forget the importance of Deaf and disabled emigrants.

According to World Bank data, nearly 3 percent of people from developing countries have migrated elsewhere. And emigrants sent home more than $200 billion a year in 2006 alone.

Research into emigrants and the remittances they send home is still a relatively new field. When it comes to data on subgroups of emigrants, there still isn’t much data even on groups that are relatively easy to identify, such women versus men. Data about smaller populations that are harder to define or identify, such as disabled people, is still very scarce to non-existent. So we can’t know for sure how many emigrants have disabilities.

But I suspect we can be reasonably confident that people with disabilities do migrate, though it is difficult to guess how many. On one hand, we know people with disabilities are more likely to be poor. [This link will download a PDF file, 157 KB] This could well mean they would have more difficulty paying for the travel costs that would be required in order for them to emigrate. On the other hand, they–and their parents and families–may be more motivated than their non-disabled peers to emigrate abroad precisely because they know it is much harder to obtain an education or find a job at home. I know I’ve met many deaf people, at Gallaudet University and on-line, who have emigrated, either for a few years of their lives or permanently, for these reasons.

Whatever the number of expatriates from developing countries who have disabilities, it is probably also safe to assume that at least some of them send remittances home. Probably many disabled emigrants send their money to their families–just like their non-disabled peers. But judging by the passion and commitment of some Deaf expatriates I have met from various developing countries to the Deaf communities that they have left behind, I would venture the guess that some of the money sent back home is meant to be used for helping the local Deaf community there. And I would venture the guess that wheelchair users, blind people, and people with other disabilities might also, in at least some cases, harbor a tremendous desire to make a difference for other people with disabilities in their native lands.

This could be an important source of remittances for Deaf and disability communities in developing countries. Deaf and disabled emigrants often know first hand exactly what kinds of challenges their peers are facing at home. And they are likely to have a better sense than other, non-disabled emigrants exactly what kinds of projects Deaf and disabled people need in their native countries. And they may be more prepared to support specialized projects and organizations that their non-disabled peers may be reluctant to support. Schools for deaf children, for example. Or training targeted at helping wheelchair users learn how to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs.

So, at least some Deaf and disabled emigrants may already be trying to support local NGOs or projects targeted at Deaf or disability communities at home. How can we help them ensure that the money they send home is used wisely? Or that their money has the maximum possible impact on the lives of Deaf or disabled people at home? How can we help them use their funds in a way that empowers their Deaf and disabled peers at home? For example, by supporting projects that the local people want to pursue even if the wealthier expatriates might like to support something else? And, can we help Deaf and disabled immigrant communities find better ways of raising more funds to send home?

Do we need something similar to the training workshop that Jewish people have offered to Guatemalan immigrants in South Florida? But targeted at Deaf or disabled immigrant communities around the world? If so, how could we start an appropriately designed network of workshops? How would we reach the people we need to reach?

I would be interested in reading your thoughts in the comments area below.

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