At Project Harar, we believe no one should feel alone because of how they look. On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we want to raise awareness and understanding of disability issues faced by people living with a facial disability in Ethiopia.

A person is classified as being disabled if they have “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities” (according to the UK Equality Act).  

Based on a World Report on Disability, there are an estimated 15 million children, adults and elderly persons living with a disability in Ethiopia – representing 17.6% of the population. The majority of these people live in rural areas and 95% of all people with disabilities are estimated to live in poverty, often relying on family for support or begging for their livelihoods.

Complex Facial Disabilities

Once a year, we provide surgery to 50 people with facial disabilities. These conditions range from noma – a facial gangrene, giant facial tumours, and those who have been attacked by animals. Their facial disabilities affect every aspect of their lives – from basic functions like eating and breathing to social stigma in their communities. We found that 82% of our patients reported experiencing stigma and isolation by their community before they received treatment from us – many of them resulted to covering their faces and most struggled to find work because of their facial disability. Additionally, 66% of school-aged children were no longer in school, and 40% of these dropped out because of bullying.

Cleft Lip and Palate

We also provide access to surgery for children born with cleft lip and palate. It is estimated that 1 in 672 babies are born with cleft in Addis Ababa every year. However, since there is very limited research into the true incidence of cleft in Ethiopia, and 94% of mothers are estimated to give birth at home, national figures are likely to be higher than this. Our research found that in the Oromia region, 30% of children with cleft lip struggled to eat and speak, and 20% experienced bullying. Additionally, many children with cleft have hearing difficulties, which can lead to further isolation.

If the legal definition disability was applied to our cleft and complex patients, many of our patients would be classified as living with a disability, due to the negative effects of their disfigurement.

What we’re doing and how you can help

We are committed to improving the lives of all of our patients and to ending discrimination against people with cleft lip and palate and other severe facial disfigurements. Here’s how we help:

  • We train community health and social workers to tackle stigma and dispel myths surrounding cleft.
  • We provide surgery for severe facial disfigurements. Following treatment, 75% of our complex patients reported becoming socially engaged and accepted into their communities.
  • We have outreach teams in Oromia, SNNPR and Afar regions who recruit patients for their vital cleft surgery - since 2001, we have provided access to more than 8,000 children and young people with cleft lip and palate, and we now treat 1,100 patients a year.

Together we can end discrimination of people living with a disability. If you would like to support us, please get in touch or check out our fundraising ideas.