Science - June 5, 2008

Handicapped heroes

The travelling exhibition Helden op stokken is in Forum until 26 June. Photos of handicapped people in Africa are displayed, with their stories printed underneath. In Dutch.

A passer by examines a photo in the exhibition <em>Helden op stokken</em> in Forum.
The photos were taken by Dutch journalists who work in Africa. The organisers of the exhibition say that despite all the aid money, people with a handicap in Africa do not receive enough attention. The exhibition, and the accompanying book, is an attempt to change this.

Not many passers by take the time to examine the photos in Forum closely. Most people glance quickly as they pass by; some don't even notice the exhibition. Luca Siciliano from Italy, doing a master's in Aquaculture and Fisheries, is one of the few who has taken time to look closely at the photos. He’s struck by the fact that most show success stories: like the photos of a blind lawyer – perhaps not a reflection of everyday reality for most handicapped Africans, he thinks. Even the leprosy clinic shown is probably one of the more luxurious clinics in Siciliano’s view. Nevertheless, he thinks it’s a good approach: ‘Often it’s the worst scenes that are shown, so that people give ‘panic money’. This exhibition takes the opposite approach.’

Girma Moges and Habtamu Giday, both Ethiopian students at Wageningen University, think the exhibition has its charms. ‘The photos are very beautiful and it’s good that attention is drawn to the position of handicapped Africans. In Ethiopia at least, there are very few facilities for handicapped people: most buildings do not have wheelchair access. People unable to walk who live in an apartment can often not get outside. Something needs to be done, and an exhibition like this can help to make people aware of the situation. But it’s such a shame that the captions are only in Dutch. There are lots of Africans here who would like to know more about the photos.’

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