FRIDAY, 28 OCTOBER 2005 LEADERS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
JICA TRAINING COURSE – JICA-NET PRESENTATION
JICA TRAINING COURSE – JICA-NET PRESENTATION
1. ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN AFTER PARTICIPATING IN THE 1999 LEADERS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES COURSE:
First and foremost, I wish to extend to JICA and JSRPD my personal gratitude and sincere appreciation for giving me this great opportunity to participate in this valuable course in 1999. Undoubtedly, my role, responsibility and commitment as a leader of a disabled persons organization in Fiji and involvement in the disability movement at local, national, regional and international level were greatly enhanced after attending this particular JICA Group Training Course at the Tokyo International Center. This sudden increase in involvement in disability-related fields were evident in the following activities undertaken between 2000 and up to October 2005.
- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) review of the first Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002, and its extension from 2003-2012 with the formulation of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for persons with disabilities in this region as policy guideline for member and associate member countries. Also included in my UNESCAP’s engagement is its regional input into the elaboration process of the proposed international disability convention being currently pursued at the global and UN level.
- Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) subregional (Pacific), regional (Asia/Pacific) and international activities to build the capacity of disabled persons organizations, and their advocacy role as grassroots human rights organization.
- International Council for the Education of Vision Impaired Persons (ICEVI) regional and global activities on education-related concerns of children and adults with vision impairment.
- Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) response to disability as an emerging issue to the governments and societies in the countries and territories of the Pacific.
- Asian-Pacific Development Center on Disability (APCD) initiatives in capacity building of self-help organizations of persons with disabilities.
- Regional disability network programmes and activities such as the Regional NGO Network (RNN), Asia/Pacific Disability Forum (APDF), and Pacific Disability Forum (PDF).
Locally, I was elected Chairperson of the national disabled persons organization called the Fiji Disabled People’s Association (FDPA) in 2000. During my two terms of office which expired in August 2004, I was successful in raising the profile of FDPA in both community settings as well as at Government level where the Association is now recognized as the body to voice and represent the concerns of disabled persons in Fiji. Also, two single-disability organizations, namely the Fiji Association of the Deaf and Psychiatry Survivors Association of Fiji were established and became affiliated organizations to FDPA along with the Spinal Injury Association and United Blind Persons of Fiji. As a result, FDPA is now an equal partner with Government, private sector and other civil society organizations in discussing disability-related concerns as well as economical and social issues for the nation. These achievements were directly related to the plans I had made whilst undertaking the 1999 JICA course on Leaders of Persons with Disabilities.
2. ACHIEVEMENTS AND CHALLENGES EXPERIENCED:
Six years after attending this particular JICA Group Training Course, it can be said that I have done reasonably well in terms of putting into action what I learned from this training opportunity in Japan, as well as further developed my skills, knowledge and experience as a leader with disability to benefit so many other persons with disabilities, their organizations, families and countries. The following activities are in my opinion highlight the achievements made so far:
- Establishing and overseeing the DPI Oceania Subregion Office in Fiji in 2000 resulting in the formation of disabled persons organizations in five Pacific Island countries which have all gained full membership in DPI.
- Being a resource person on disability-related meetings, seminars and workshops organized by numerous regional and international organizations and UN bodies.
- Hired as a course writer on disability study programme at the University of the South Pacific.
- Leading the campaign in the Pacific to raise the profile of the Biwako Millennium Framework (BMF) in about 20 developing island nations and territories, and the subsequent endorsement of the BMF by leaders of our Pacific Islands Governments in 2003.
- Mainstreaming relevant disability issues in the Fiji Government’s Strategic Development Plan, 2003-2005, and promoting the same concept to other Government Ministries and civil society organizations.
- Appointed in September 2004 as Executive Director of the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, the national coordinating body on disability in Fiji established and funded by Government.
- Leading FDPA to win the 4th Pacific Human Rights Award in 2004 organized by the UNDP Regional Rights Resource Team
- Winning the 6th Kazuo Itoga Memorial Foundation Award, Otsu, Shiga, Japan in 2002 for outstanding contribution to disability development work in the Asian/Pacific Region.
Listed below are some challenges I faced while engaging myself in various activities to sensitise relevant bodies and decision-makers at all levels on the needs, concerns and aspirations of disabled persons.
- Members of my own Association (FDPA) are ignorant of the vision, purpose and functions of the organization. As a result, there was disunity, group solidarity and lack of ownership among the members.
- Negative attitudes and lack of disability-awareness by members of society including policy/decision makers in Government and private sector.
- Low priority given to disability-related issues in society generally.
- Disabled persons are discriminated against and their basic human rights violated as well as not protected by law.
- Absence of budgetary provisions on disability matters by national and local governments.
- Disability either excluded or not a priority within Government development agenda.
- Disabled Persons Organizations lack effective advocacy, communication, technical, financial and networking skills to carry out their activities successfully, efficiently and responsibly.
- Disability organizations competing against each other and with other NGOs for funding assistance from same donor agencies, Government or other local sources.
3. LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE ABOVE EXPERIENCES:
- Have a clear vision, share it with your colleagues and commit yourself passionately to fulfilling it. Often, leaders with disabilities lack direction, motivation and purpose because they fail to set goals for their organizations and themselves, and are not forward looking in their plans and strategies.
- Never give up. Disability issues are so marginalized that leaders must commit themselves for the journey. Attitudes don’t change overnight and the “squeaky hinge will get the oil”.
- Keep up to date. Develop necessary skills, learn relevant information, understand current theory and be open to new ideas relating to disability and about your role as a leader.
- Reflect in action. Be sensitive and responsive to both internal and external environment, learn from your mistakes, change objectives, plans and strategies when/where necessary.
- Serve others, not yourself. Leaders are elected to serve, champion and protect the interests of their members, and not for self-gain purpose or selfish reasons. Your satisfaction is drawn from the success achieved or progress made by your members.
- Commit to people building. Democratic process may not allow you to be a leader of your movement all the time, so have the interest of others and your organization at heart by building the capacity of others around you to have a strong leadership base. Leaders come and go, but the movement marches on, whatever shape or form that may be.
- Recognize your divine purpose. You have a role to play in whatever position you are given, so make the most of it to the best of your ability. Cease every opportunity as the fruit of your work is what others will remember you by.
4. THINGS TO LEARN WHILE IN JAPAN:
- The range of services available to persons with disabilities and their families.
- Support given by all levels of government towards disability sector and persons with disabilities themselves.
- Access for persons with disabilities in the area of transportation, ICT and physical environment.
- Vocational training, employment and sports opportunities for persons with disabilities.
- Independent living programme for persons with severe disabilities and coordination of support care for such persons.