Helping the village where one in four are disabled

Disabled villagers weave doormats to make a living

In a remote mountain village in Indonesia, one in four people have physical and learning disabilities – an unusually high number. For many years they couldn’t get the care they needed, but one man has transformed their lives.

At the entrance to the tiny, dusty village of Karangpatihan, a banner with a picture of Eko Mulyadi’s face hangs between two trees. To his surprise, last year, he was elected the village leader.

“I never wanted to be the village head. It was never my ambition. But one night a young man came into my house very late. I had been asleep since 11pm. He woke me up and took me to a room where all the villagers were. There were about 90 people, both young and old, and they told me: ‘We want you to be our leader.'”

Now Mulyadi’s house is a place where anyone can come and pass the time, especially those with learning and physical disabilities.

The house has a wide veranda, where Mulyadi’s wife Yuliana is sitting with their nine-year-old daughter and newborn baby, drinking tea.

They are taking a break from shelling a fresh crop of peanuts. Chickens wander around pecking at the husks, and the sound of the family’s two goats bleating drifts through the house.

Sitting on the steps that lead from the veranda to the street is Duey, a spindly, middle-aged man who can’t speak. He’s a regular here and comes most days to sit with Mulyadi’s wife and daughters.

Today, despite the oppressive heat, Duey is dressed in two shirts and three pairs of shorts, all of which are torn. He’s pulling at his shorts and gesticulating, trying to tell me something using short guttural sounds.

Mulyadi comes down the steps to greet Duey and they begin an extraordinary conversation, resembling a dance. Mulyadi uses his face, his hands and his whole body to communicate with him.

“He’s telling me he has plenty of clothes at home, but no trousers,” says Mulyadi, smiling.

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Down the street, Bagus Waras is picking up rubbish. He was born with hydrocephalus, a condition where a build-up of too much cerebrospinal fluid causes the brain to swell. He’s 30 but has the developmental age of a young child.

When I ask him what he is doing he says timidly: “Please Miss, I am just five, just five. I am going now, going to school.”

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