International Day of Persons with Disabilities: a chance to succeed
Najmuddin Helal runs the ICRC physical rehabilitation centre in Kabul. He delivered one of the opening speeches at this year's 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, giving us an opportunity to ask him a few questions in the run-up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December.
What are the main messages you wanted to convey to this global forum in your speech?
My main message was "Let's prevent disability, together!" And when I say "disability," I'm thinking not only of disability caused directly by war injuries, but also of disability resulting from inadequate health care due to conflict.
One way of preventing disability is for States to sign up to the treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions, because both types of weapon continue to kill and maim countless people all over the world.
But signing treaties is not enough. We have to make sure these treaties are properly implemented. One essential step towards achieving this is to mobilize the international community to guarantee access to health care and protection for health workers and patients. These are the aims of the ICRC's new Health Care in Danger campaign.
For people who already have disabilities, accessibility is very important. When a person with a disability is invited out, they always ask themselves, "Will I be able to manage?" If amenities for disabled people were included when building schools, for example, it would be so much easier for disabled children to get an education.
Afghanistan is particularly affected by landmines. What are the main challenges for people with disabilities in your country?
In Afghanistan, just as in the rest of the world, people with disabilities must be able to live their lives and get back into society. That applies not just to amputees but to all disabled people; babies with club feet, children with cerebral palsy, adults with spinal chord injuries and so forth. Disabled people must have opportunities to learn a skill and lead a useful life. They must find their role in society, with dignity, and society must enable them to fulfil their potential.
When patients arrive at our rehabilitation centres without legs, on stretchers, and they see other amputees walking around, they regain hope. These people come in crawling and go home on their own two feet. And that gives their families hope as well, because instead of being a burden, the disabled person can live a normal life.
What would be your message to people with disabilities around the world?
Based on my experience in Afghanistan, my message would be that disabled people must believe that they can succeed. People in my country feel sorry for the disabled, but they think we should just stay in a corner. They don't realise how much we can do. But the two big preconditions for disabled people to realise their potential are training and an accessible environment.
Like Najmuddin Helal, nearly all the staff at the ICRC's seven physical rehabilitation centres in Afghanistan are former patients. They have been trained as technicians or physiotherapists and have learned many other skills. When disabled people see others doing something useful and living a fulfilled life, they once again dare to hope that they too can have a life again.