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Silver Jubilee of the National Association of War Disabled Veterans

The National Association of War Disabled Veterans (NAWDV) reflects on its past accomplishments and looks forward to achieving more in the future. The Association recently held a one-day conference on 17 October to commemorate its 25th anniversary.

At the conference, presentations were made on issues related to the challenges the disabled encounter and suggestions and recommendations were made by the participants to support war disabled veterans. Two research papers focusing on the socio-economic challenges of war disabled veterans and their integration into civilian life were presented and discussed.

Ministers, government officials, members of NAWDV and other guests took part in the one-day conference. Luul Ghebreab, Minister of Labor and Human Welfare, said that war disabled veterans made sacrifice for their country’s independence and sovereignty. She added that the opening of the Bidho and Port Sudan camps by the EPLF in 1978 was meant to assist war disabled veterans to become productive citizens. More efforts have been made after independence to provide disabled veterans with opportunities to become self-sufficient.

Since its establishment in October 1993, NAWDV has made significant contributions toward improving the lives of disabled veterans through rehabilitation programs, the provision of support services and other activities.

The provision of medical care to war disabled veterans is one of the Association’s main tasks, and it covers 50-70% of all their medical expenses. NAWDV members have been involved in rehabilitation programs within different sectors, including agriculture, trade, manufacturing, and services. NAWDV has given out 38 million Nakfa to veterans, often engaging them in self-directed employment and initiatives which have largely been productive. Many veterans participate in trade.

At the conference, Ghebrebrhan Eyassu, chairperson of NAWDV, presented details of the Association’s achievements during the pre- and post-independence periods. According to Ghebrebrhan, NAWDV aims to increase income through various business ventures. It currently owns over 30% of the Lilo Transport Corporation and more than 40% of the Shishay Animal Feed Processing Plant.

NAWDV seeks to upgrade its capacity in order to more effectively carry out its activities. It has earned approximately 198 million Nakfa from its business firms, which include spare part shops, recreation centers, garages, and computer training centers. Haben Trust Fund is another key source of financial support for the Association. To date, NAWDV has received over 53 million Nakfa in monetary terms and in kind from Eritreans at home and abroad.

NAWDV’s anniversary celebration was a platform for discussion. Members discussed a range of issues, including infrastructural challenges and the need for more mobility-improving equipment, such as motorcycles, wheelchairs, and spare parts. Conference participants also noted that a sound policy for upgrading the Association’s income was required.

“War disabled veterans are always willing to work, and they are very keen to avoid idleness”, Mr. Ghebrebrhan stated. But the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives need to be closely considered.

At the conference, research papers exploring the socio-economic challenges faced by veterans were presented. The paper, “Socio-economic and Employment Challenges Facing Disabled War Veterans in Eritrea”, by Dr. Ghergish Tekle, based at Adi Keyih College of Arts and Social Sciences, highlights that low wages, ossification of trade activities, shortages of spare parts, severity of disability, mobility problems, ageing, lack of employment opportunities, and infrastructural challenges were among the main obstacles to productivity for war disabled veterans. It was also revealed that war disabled veterans depend upon NAWDV and their family members for support during financial crisis.

The paper also shed light on the problems faced by disabled female veterans, who make up18% of the Association’s members. NAWDV aims to support women, particularly in trade and agriculture. The Association, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare, also provides micro-finance opportunities to female veterans. While most of those who have received financial support have achieved success, the high interest rate – nine percent – has been a major deterrent for those looking to obtain loans. Interest rates need to be decreased in order to encourage the participation of women. Approximately 60% of the female loan recipients have been engaged in agriculture, with the remaining 40% participating in trade. Also, lack of adequate training has been a problem for female veterans.

Professor Abebe Kifleyesus, from Adi Keyih College of Arts and Social Sciences, presented a paper titled “Reintegration and Transition of War Impaired Veterans to Civilian Life.” According to Professor Abebe, most veterans’ social interactions are confined to people who have similar impairments. Those residing in the camps do not greatly interact with people living outside the camps. One important factor influencing veterans’ limited social interactions is their low income. Thus, it is likely that increasing income as well as solving housing problems could enhance the social interactions of war disabled veterans. An important point raised by the paper is that, generally, the Eritrean society deeply honors and respects war disabled veterans, with little evidence of stigma or discrimination.

As a final point, the conference participants gave recommendations, including properly caring for and renovating properties owned by NAWDV, reinforcing ties with branch offices abroad, decreasing interest rates for loans, increasing focus on women, particularly those living in rural areas and cultivating relationships with regional offices.

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