Uniting the voices of people with disabilities for action in Bhutan

Workshop participants seated with their backs aways from the camera and facing a facilitator in a meeting room. One particpant is seated in a wheelchair.

 The self-help group formation workshop in action (SNV Bhutan)


As an adult, when Ms Dema stepped into a community meeting for the first time in her life, she never expected that one day she would be nominated by her peers to lead the Udzorong People with Disabilities Self-Help Group.

A resident of a remote village in Jomtshang, Trashigang district in Bhutan, Dema has lived with low vision since she was a child. She has no formal schooling, and that same day marked her first experience of ever holding a pen and a piece of paper.

Other than helping with some basic household chores, Dema's younger sister had always discouraged her from taking up any more work because of her disability. But Dema’s participation in the two-day SNV-Disabled People’s Organization of Bhutan (DPOB) Self-Help Group formation workshop signalled the beginning of her transformative journey.


"It provided me with a sense of motivation and encouragement to participate in these types of events, despite my disability."



Dema was one of 22 participants in the workshop, which was facilitated by DPOB members with disabilities and supported by Australia through SNV's Water for Women project. Participants shared their lived experiences and difficulties in accessing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and some ideas and techniques on how to make WASH services more accessible.

Collaboratively, the participants drew up their own action plan with support from the facilitators. At the end of the workshop, the group nominated two female leaders – one who lives with a disability, being Dema, and the other, the caregiver of a person with severe cerebral palsy – who were tasked with coordinating and following up on progress in implementing the action plan. The group agreed to hold quarterly face-to-face meetings and incorporated this into their action plan.

Participants also formed a Wechat social media group to facilitate post-workshop exchanges and social accountability. Today, this social media group comprises 22 members, an elected local leader, a health worker, an SNV staff member, and the facilitators. Dema is among the more active members in the Wechat group. Recently, she negotiated the assistance of her brother-in-law to modify their toilet at home.


A woman is seated and looking down at her hands as she holds a pen in her right hand and paper in her left, restiung on her knees. She is wearing a bright green jacket and colourful striped pants.

"This workshop did not only introduce me to other people with disabilities, but I also gained the opportunity to hold a pen and paper for the first time in my life."


Self-help groups are important partners for change that place a high premium on mutual support. They are instrumental in advancing countries’ poverty alleviation and development goals, including peoples' access to WASH services. And as Dema has found, self-help groups also offer a sense of belonging that encourages members to explore and embrace their potential as individuals who can catalyse change.

Dema's continued success and the belongingness and camaraderie offered by the self-help group are helping to blaze the trail for other people living with disabilities to find and use their voice.

Water for Women partners with SNV to accelerate progress in rural WASH access for 88,246* people, including more than 7,600 people living with disabilies across Dagana, Zhemgang and Trashigang districts through the project, Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Bhutan. This project is improving access to equitable and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services that are safely managed, and stregthening the adaptive capacities of stakeholders, including rights holder groups and communities, to ensure sustainable service delivery and quality and equity at scale.



December 3rd is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

This year's theme, 'United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities' conveys the solidarity and accelerated efforts needed now in order to get many of the Sustainable Development Goals back on track for 2030 - especially those for persons with disabilities that are lagging even further behind.

Across Asia and the Pacfic, Water for Women partners are united in action for SDG 6 - safe water and sanitation for all - upon which all 17 goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development rely.

Working in partnership with Organisations of Persons for and with Disabilities, rights holder groups, communities, sector stakeholders and governments, our partners are accelerating access to climate-resilient, gender equitable and disability inclusive WASH services for all.

With a core focus on systems strengthening and commitment to leave no one behind, partners are also helping to build resiience within the networks and infrastructure that underpin these services. 

Together, we have reached more than 3.4 million people in 16 countries so far, including almost 70,000 people living with disabilities and more than 1.7 million women and girls.

Inclusive communities are resilient communites.



Above: Holding a pen and piece of paper for the first time in her life, Ms Dema draws a picture of her home during the self-help group formation workshop (SNV Bhutan / Ugyen Wangchuk) 


*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) project baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate.


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