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“Leaving no one Behind” is More than a Slogan

By: Simon Woldemichael

The empowerment of the disabled and other socially and physically disadvantaged segments of the society continues to be a priority of Eritrea’s development agenda. The government and community organizations are actively working to ensure that Eritreans living with disabilities are not left behind.

Soon after Eritrea’s independence, associations were established to represent and work for people with disabilities. The associations secured unfettered support from the government and the people living inside and outside of Eritrea. The associations that are functioning include the Eritrean National War-Disabled Veterans Association, Eritrean National Association of the Deaf, Eritrean National Association of the Blind and National Association of Autism and Down syndrome in Eritrea. These associations advocate for the rights of people with disability, conduct public awareness campaigns, and provide services.

In collaboration with various community organizations, programs are being launched to develop personal skills of the disabled to help them have better and dignified lives. The Eritrean Hearing and Visually Impaired (EHVI) is an association launched in 2014 by interested Eritreans living in the USA and Canada who are dedicated to improve the lives of those with hearing and visual problems. The organization makes a lot of contribution in terms of material, technology and ideas to help Eritrea deal with disability. The association has sent a delegation composed of Mr. Araya Efriem (vice chairman), Yordanos Abraham (a visually impaired woman), Dr. Mihreteab Gebrehiwet and Azieb Mihtsun to boost the cooperation and coordination with local stakeholders and to deliver important mobility and accessibility materials for the deaf and the visually impaired citizens.

I had an extensive discussion with Mr. Araya Efriem and Ms. Yordanos Abraham about the activities, objectives and future plans of EHVI. They believe that hearing and visual impairment are social challenges that need to be confronted adequately. They explained to me the necessity of learning about, adapting to, and coping with disability. Mr. Araya Efriem briefly stated that “the success of any investment can only be ensured if and only if the societal and attitudinal barriers and negative thoughts and feelings about disability are eliminated and replaced by positive attitudes.” Their contribution is of high importance for the empowerment of the visually impaired and deaf citizens and for the elimination of social injustice and discrimination. They have reached an agreement with the Association of Eritrean Artists to conduct an intensive awareness-raising campaign in the near future.

EHVI has delivered computers with applicable software ready to go, talking watch, white canes, support canes, a reading device for the visually impaired college students, magnifier-glass for those with low vision, special sport facilities and spare parts. Visually impaired students of the College of Business and Social Sciences at Adi Keih has received the support needed to enhance their learning. The association expects individuals with disabilities to deal with their challenges and excel in what they do.

The Eritrean people fervently believe in cooperation. People need to cooperate to survive and prosper. It’s been considered a foundation for the effective functioning of a society. In the dog-eat-dog world, Eritreans living inside and outside of the country cooperate and work together for the betterment of their life and their country. Mr. Araya Efriem argued that cooperation is necessary for Eritrea’s prosperity and for its achievement in various fields such as education, health and sport. Cooperation is the foundation for participation, inclusion, social integration and cohesion.

Social inclusion is understood as a process by which efforts are made to ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of people’s background, so that individuals can achieve their full potential in life. The contribution of EHVI is aimed at creating conditions to enable full and active participation of every member of the society in all aspects of life. The initiative taken by the Eritrean diaspora goes beyond material assistance. More importantly, it’s one way of expression of the intimate connection they have with homeland.

The cooperation of the Eritrean diaspora is a reflection of the strong social cohesion that exists in the Eritrean society. Cooperation, which has become a tradition in Eritrea, enables Eritreans to help one another. The true meaning of the contributions of the diaspora community can only be understood from this perspective. The Eritrean society is unified and every citizen feels a sense of belonging.

Giving support to young citizens living with disability is a conscious decision to sustain an inclusive society, recognizing the human rights of every individual and giving them support to become active and productive citizens. An inclusive society must be based on respect for human rights, including respect for the special needs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, and social justice. Supporting organizations such as EHVI are motivated by the policy of social justice which is the guiding principle of Eritrea. To be involved in organizations such as EHVI is performing moral, human and national duties all at once.

The Eritrean society is tolerant, inclusive and supportive that embraces all people. The government’s policy of social justice that aims to ensure that no one is left behind has a strong social and cultural basis. Giving assistance to those in need is a culture in Eritrea. EHVI believes that no one can be empowered by simply receiving handouts. Mr. Araya Efriem and Yordanos Abraham emphasized that the objective of their organization is to help the target group to become productive by establishing revenue generation centers.

The establishment of revenue generating centers would allow the physically disabled to participate in a process of changing their individual lives as well as the collective lives. The association has completed a design of the center they want to establish and they are contacting relevant authorities for the final phase of implementation.

Through the coordination of various governmental and non-governmental entities, “leaving no one behind” has become a practical guiding principle. The dignity of the citizens with disability are recognized, their needs and concerns reflected, and their rights are not only guaranteed in legislation but also respected. The contribution of the Eritrean diaspora in making the idea of “leaving no one behind” a reality is impressive. Their involvement holds an important place in making a fairer Eritrea in which everyone, including those with disability, can go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

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