Pakistan: Gift of independence, dignity for people with disability amid pandemic

Arif Khan has a dignified gait as he walks slowly up to his autorickshaw and gets ready for a ride just as he has been doing since he got the vehicle in February. Driving an autorickshaw in Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province) is no ordinary job for the 30-year-old, who had lost a limb in a bomb blast five years ago.

In his work Khan sees the hope of living with dignity, providing for his family's needs and making sure that his five children get an education. These had been his main concerns when life took a tragic turn but Khan found hope at the physical rehabilitation centre supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Though the journey of rehabilitation was challenging and involved long physical therapy sessions, Khan received a prosthetic leg and learned to walk again.

In February, when Khan was given the autorickshaw as part of the economic empowerment initiative of the ICRC's physical rehabilitation programme, he had not imagined what a blessing the vehicle would be for him in the upcoming months. Within just a few weeks, the country went into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. As strict restrictions were imposed on movement and social gathering, many suffered loss of livelihood and severe financial stress.

But Khan did not have to worry this time. He could continue taking rides within the city while strictly following the prescribed safety measures. "The ICRC's help came to me just in time. Because of the autorickshaw, I have been able to provide for my family and live with dignity despite COVID-19 and economic slowdown. Now I don't live in constant worry about my children's future," he says.

Khan shares that he is able to earn approximately PKR 30,000 (about CHF 170) a month. Mian Yaqoob Jan, who leads the PRP team in Peshawar, says the ICRC is striving to help people with disabilities achieve their full potential and facilitating their journey from rehabilitation to inclusion through various projects including cash support.

"COVID-19 pandemic can increase the vulnerability of people with disabilities. So, we have been providing financial assistance to 3,400 families of people with disabilities who were treated at 24 physical rehabilitation centres supported by the ICRC across the country," says Jan, adding that they have also distributed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits at these centres.

The physical rehabilitation programme in Pakistan has been assisting people with disabilities such as Khan for almost four decades. In 2019, more than 34,000 people benefited from the services provided at the physical rehabilitation centres supported by the ICRC.