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Getting to know… Matthew Hanning, Director of International Programmes at CBM UK

Posted on: Monday, February 10th, 2020

Matthew Hanning has been part of the CBM family for 20 years. He developed his passion for working alongside people with disabilities when he volunteered at a school for Deaf and deafblind children in Jordan as a student. Since then, he has worked across the Middle East, Australia and Indonesia, before joining CBM UK as Director of International Programmes 18 months ago. We sat down with Matthew to find out more about his work and what inspires him.

What does your current role at CBM involve?

I lead the Programmes Department at CBM UK. We are responsible for developing and managing CBM UK’s life-changing projects from inclusive eye-health projects in Rwanda to tackling mental health stigma in Kenya. We also make sure that every penny raised in the UK has the greatest possible impact in the places we work.

Partnership is key to CBM’s approach, so we do our best to ensure people with disabilities and local organisations are involved in the whole process, from designing a new project to evaluating how effective it has been and all stages in between. Our team is currently managing over 40 projects across Africa and Asia.

What is Disability Inclusive Development and what does it mean for CBM’s work?

There are many organisations working to tackle poverty and exclusion worldwide and collectively we’ve made some great progress over the last few years. But often this work has unintentionally excluded people with disabilities – who make up an estimated 15% of the global population. Our approach is disability inclusive development – making sure people with disabilities are involved in, and can benefit from, what we do, making it development for all.

So disability-inclusive development is like a lens with which we view all of our work, a foundation that underpins everything we do. We are always trying to answer the question – how do we make sure the most marginalised people with disabilities and their families are being included? One answer to this question is working with hospitals or other local partner organisations to raise awareness and provide training. Maybe the hospital doesn’t have wheelchair access, or accessible bathrooms. Or if a wheelchair user was also Deaf we’d be trying to ensure there was somebody on the staff who knows the local sign language who can actually communicate with them. It’s looking to make sure any individual is not excluded because of their disability.

We also work with organisations to make sure that people with disabilities are included in responses to disasters. Often in emergency situations people with disabilities are literally left behind. If there’s a flood coming and you are blind you may not be able to find escape routes to get out the flood’s way in time or food distribution points… We are making sure people with disabilities are in the mind and consciousness of people who are responding – and that they are also included in planning for, and responding to, disasters.

What barriers did you witness for people with disabilities when you worked in Indonesia?

Indonesia has a population of over 260 million people and about 25% of them live on less than $2 a day. So there are real challenges in basic needs and access to health, education, and jobs. When you have a disability somewhere like that it makes things much harder.

The sheer distances was a big challenge too. Indonesia has around 17,500 islands spread over three time zones. For some people in the more remote parts of the country the journey to the nearest district hospital would take maybe two days by boat; there was nothing closer to where they lived.

What types of programmes does CBM deliver in Indonesia?

We had a big eye health programme working with the government and other organisations doing cataract surgeries, and also working with people of low vision for whom surgery, glasses or medicine couldn’t help to see better. We had projects supporting the health system people think about with mental health conditions. And we also worked with communities to make sure that people with disabilities in those communities could access health, education, and earn a living.

We worked on one project where we were getting people with disabilities together in their villages. We gave some seed money, helped them form a self-help group and they asked for training which really increased their confidence. Then they would go together to the local authorities and say: “we need this, and we demand this as people with disabilities”. Often they would then be given some local service or funds, which was fantastic because it meant that our little bit of money could make a big impact.

What impact has your time in Indonesia had on you?

Especially in my current role which is based in the UK, remembering my time there visiting people whose lives are impacted by our work always reminds me why we are doing what we do, and the difference that we along with our supporters can make in the lives of people.

My daily prayer for myself and for our work is for wisdom. We are often making decisions about where we can make most impact and difference on the most vulnerable people. It’s absolutely vital to remember that it’s about the impact on people’s lives at the end of the day – that’s what drives us every day, and we know that it’s what matters to our supporters too.