During, Eritrea’s long and bitter armed struggle for independence many lives were lost, property was destroyed and many people were left with disabilities. After liberation, the government gave full backing to the establishment of the Eritrean war disabled fighters association.
Even before the attainment of the liberation, the EPLF took care of war disabled fighters. Soon after independence, the government made care for the disabled fighters a priority. As a result, Eritrea War Disabled Fighters Association (EWDFA) was established.
According to Mr. Gebrebrhan Eyasu, Chairperson of EWDFA is an independent and non-governmental association which was founded on October 17th, 1993. It set up to guarantee self-sufficiency of the disabled and their families. The association mainly works with the help of its partners. The veterans, the people of Eritrea and the government are the main partners of the association. The Swiss Support Committee for Eritrea (SUKE) is one of the organizations that has been helping the association since 1996.
Since its establishment, the association has been functioning actively in three major areas. They are training and advice, advancing loans and creating employment opportunities. The association has worked tirelessly in re improving the lives of the disabled with a special emphasis on strengthening the potential of those families with limited income by helping them start small businesses.
The association has also been taking care of the veterans’ livelihoods, their education and their health centers. The war disabled fighters live permanently or temporarily in the association’s camps; Denden, Algein and Mai- Habar camps. The veterans are a great resource to the country and the association has been organizing training and academic courses for them. Mr. Gebrebrhan said that activities aimed at ensuring good health of the war disabled fighters remains a priority for the association, for this reason half of the association’s budget is earmarked for health care. Currently, the association gives the veterans free eye medication in Asmara and for those who live in other regions of Eritrea, the association organizes events for eye examination and treatment by specialists from inside and outside Eritrea. In addition, the Association covers 70% of their expenses in the country and it 50% of their expenses if they seek medical treatment abroad. There are around 24 war disabled veterans in Denden camp who need medication regularly, and the association is taking care of them by importing medicine.
Mr. Gebrebrhan also said that the association is working on demobilizing disabled fighters, individually or collectively. This has been done by giving suitable jobs or money so that they can be self-reliant. Currently, the veterans are contributing towards building the Eritrean economy. Besides working to serve the needs and wants of the disabled veterans, the association has carried out studies on how to combat the effects of disability, improve the living conditions of the veterans, and their health, change the attitude of the public towards any kind of disability and provide suitable social services for the disabled fighters.
The association has been organizing the war disabled veterans and the people inside and outside Eritrea to raise their awareness about disability, in general, and war disability in particular. For those who are in other regions the association has been disseminating materials which can help them in their daily lives. This is also done by organizing the people of Eritrea inside and outside the country. The association has counseling services which is believed to help the disabled veterans in their day-to-day activities concerning health, social life and other difficulties they face.
For those with severe disability, the association and the government proved money, food and sanitation. Along with this, the association has also been working to give loans. This year the association is giving around 7 million Nakfa for 487 Veterans. In addition, this year around 30 veterans in Debub region were given bee hives and 50 of them were given training on beekeeping.
The association is doing all of its activities with a great help from Eritreans living abroad. Eritreans living in Sweden, Oakland, Denmark, Holland, Germany and others have been donating wheelchairs, crutches and medicines. Over all, the people of Eritrea in side and abroad and the club in Denden camp are playing a great role in generating money for the war disabled fighters.
Finally, Mr. Gebrebrhan said that Eritreans are doing a great job helping the disabled veterans and believing that the disabled fighters are not only productive forces but they are also driven. Though, infrastructure still remains to be a problem for the disabled veterans, the government and the association is working hand in hand to create a suitable infrastructure in schools, hospitals and recreational centers.