People with disabilities, either with a particular type of impairment or cross disabilities, need proper support and care. Their needs, priorities, and choices need to be considered and addressed according to the magnitude of their challenges. In Eritrea, extending support to war disabled veterans, individuals who sacrificed so much, is the responsibility of everybody who is now enjoying independence and peace. Supporting the rehabilitation of war disabled veterans has mainly been the responsibility of the Eritrean Government. To address the needs of disabled veterans, the National Association of War Disabled Veterans (NAWDV) was established in 1994 through the support of the Government. Since then, the association has shouldered the responsibility for the rehabilitation of war disabled veterans through various schemes. The NAWDV has implemented various rehabilitation programs through funding from the Government and charitable donations from citizens. Currently, the NAWDV is preparing to celebrate 25 years of contributions and achievements.
The NAWDV works at the national level and is mainly composed of disabled people. It fully understands that the war veterans know best their own needs and aspirations and should be their own spokespersons and representatives. Prior to addressing any particular challenges, the NAWDV carries out extensive research to understand the needs of disabled people. It then implements rehabilitation programs in which disabled veterans are active participants. During the past 24 years, various platforms aimed at addressing different challenges have been organized.
The NAWDV is composed of people with cross disabilities. Bearing in mind that most of its members have chronic disabilities that worsen with age and over time, the association carries out regular inspection to identify particular challenges and develop timely remedial solutions. Mr. Ghebrebrhan Eyassu, Chairperson of the NAWDV, suggests that the association firmly believes that the disabled are the best advocates and spokespersons of their own problems. Thus, it is imperative to work closely with them, particularly through open discussion forums and by strengthening the organizational capacity of the association.
According to Mr. Ghebrebrhan, providing social services to disabled veterans is a major mandate of the association. Rehabilitation programs include, among others, microfinance schemes to help the disabled become self-relaint. As part of the social-welfare programs, 290 motorcycles and five minibuses were purchased in 1995 at a cost of over 8 million Nakfa. These vehicles make the mobility of the disabled easy. Beds, wheelchairs, artificial limbs, hearing aids, and eye glasses, provided in collaboration with the association’s branches abroad, help alleviate challenges for the visual and hearing impaired as well as others. Mr. Ghebrebrhan notes that the association used to cover 70% of the cost for eyeglasses until 2009. Currently, the association has its own eyeglass manufacturing center and offers 50% coverage for the total cost of eyeglasses. In addition, free physiotherapy and acupuncture services are provided.
In terms of the health care, as with the pre-independence period, two clinics, one in Mai- Habar and another in Denden Camp, have been providing service to treat injuries, alleviate complications, and ease pains (until 2002). In late 2002, the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare assumed responsibility for providing social services to war disabled veterans, with the association covering 50-70% of medical expenses. Disabled war veterans under regular care at the Denden Camp are also provided with various forms of support from the NAWDV and branch associations abroad. Notably, the association has also worked with the Inter-Plus group, based in Germany, to provide special surgical services. Thus far, the group has conducted backbone surgeries on 181 war veterans.
Awareness is important when discussing challenges encountered by the disabled. Mr. Ghebrebrhan said that the association has developed awareness campaigns in response to societal barriers that have prevented people with disabilities from equal participation in society. Awareness campaigns have been carried out to eliminate societal perceptions that disability is a curse or sin. These campaigns also aim to reinforce community-based inclusive rehabilitation programs, generate broad societal support, as well as to ensure implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As part of helping the disabled to become self-dependent, the NAWDV has supported the establishment of income generating activities and enterprises. Small firms that have been established to upgrade the economic capacity of the association and its members include: Merkeb Construction Share Company; Agamet Garage; four computer training centers; an eyeglass manufacturing center; and auto spare part shops.
Mr. Ghebrebrhan proudly notes that most construction activities of the association have been implemented by Merkeb Construction Company. Besides implementing projects of the association, the company has also played a key role in boosting the association’s income. The association has also helped with the establishment of different small-scale business firms like bakeries and cafes. Income generated from bakeries and mills in Hagaz, Agordet, Mai-Dma, Dekemhare, Afabet, and Mendefera was used for the opening of branches. Last, the association provides venues that encourage employment for members, since one difficulty for the disabled is the pain of idleness. When supported with proper training, the disabled can remain productive in agriculture, manufacturing, services, and trade activities. “Disabled people shift from one work area to another, but they never give up,” Mr. Ghebrebrhan stated.
According to Mr. Ghebrebrhan, rehabilitation programs are carried out at the group level. Working in groups allows members to support and complement one another. The group-based rehabilitation program has been effective and the beneficiaries of these projects have opened second branches or established other institutions through the income they generated. Mr. Ghebrebrhan also remarked that 500 water pumps have been given to disabled veterans who engage in agriculture, while other forms of assistance have been provided to those who open cafes, and well over 5000 projects have been implemented by the association.
The association is dynamic. It plays a significant role in identifying needs and priorities, evaluating services, advocating change, and raising public awareness. It also helps members develop skills, strengthens their organizational abilities, and offers vocational training. Understanding that disabled women face unique or separate challenges, and that women are often confronted with socio-cultural and economic disadvantages that may impede their access to training, employment, or other services, the association gives special focus to the empowerment of women.
Currently, the NAWDV has 18,989 members and there are 94 branches of the association abroad, including in Denmark, Norway, Holland, Sweden, USA, Kuwait, Germany, and Italy. Associations abroad work closely with the NAWDV, and through both monetary support and the provision of materials they have made significant contributions toward improving the lives of the disabled. Many individuals at home and abroad have also supported the NAWDV.
Mr. Ghebrebrhan believes that although it has achieved alot, the NAWDV still has much work to do. For example, infrastructure, aging, and other complications are regular challenges that arise in giving care to disabled war veterans.
The NAWDV has implemented various rehabilitation programs in the last 24 years, and it is now preparing to commemorate its 25th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, the association will host a conference on 17 October. Three papers related to the challenges of disability will be presented, including a paper on war and disability. The conference will also feature presentations about the association’s work and accomplishments over the past 25 years, a pictorial exhibition, the distribution of magazines and brochures, sports competitions, and discussion forums.