The Fifth Annual
Shafallah Forum focused on crisis, conflict and disability, and attracted
the First Spouses of more than a dozen world leaders, along with roughly
250 attendees from around the world. The event was hosted by Her Highness
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al Missned in Qatar at the Shafallah Center
for Children with Special Needs.
Coming on the heels of such disasters as the devastating earthquake
and tsunami in Japan last spring, famine in the Horn of Africa and floods
in the Philippines, along with the continuing reconstruction efforts
in Haiti, the Shafallah Forum highlighted not only the strain these
events have placed on individuals and societies, but also the increased
severity these conditions place on people with disabilities.
Hassan Ali Bin Ali, chairman of the Shafallah Center, opened the forum
along with Ron McCallum, chair of the United Nations Committee on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Louise Aubin, professor and
deputy director of the International Protection for the United Nations
High Commission for Refugees.
In his welcoming remarks, Ali Bin Ali called on those countries that
have not signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
to do so as a means to better cope with natural disasters.
Although we have made long strides in the advancement of the rights
of the disabled, he noted, There is still much more we can
In the forums first panel discussion, Refugees with Disabilities,
Teymoor Nabili, an anchor for Al Jazeera, moderated a discussion examining
the conditions in refugee camps and evaluating how technology and resources
can promote a more inclusive environment, equal opportunities and community
The panel was chaired by Sarah Costa, PhD, executive director of the
Womens Refugee Commission. She stressed registration as the first
step in identifying and addressing conditions that affect refugees with
disabilities, urging that measures be adopted: We need to start
identifying the people with disabilities at the time of refugee registration,
and break it down on the basis of age, gender and profile of disability.
She also reinforced the notion that disability is not inability.
This years forum addresses the intersection of crisis, conflict
and disability as a means to bring attention to the double discrimination
affecting refugees with disabilities. Francesca Bonelli of the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees, and Scholastica Nasinyama of InterAid,
suggested that refugees with disabilities face multiple challenges,
including being shunned by their communities. They also lack infrastructure,
migratory status, permanent residence, basic sanitation, and adequate
living conditions that enable their mobility.
In Uganda in particular, decades of civil war have created more than
160,000 refugees, according to government figures cited by Yusrah Nagujja,
disability officer of the Refugee Law.
She estimates that 2000 of Ugandas refugees have disabilities,
and cautioned that these figures have likely been underreported. On
top of that, many Ugandans have fled into neighboring countries following
violence spurred by the Lords Resistance Army. Famine in East
Africa has exasperated these conditions. She called for research and
data, along with funding to promote economic empowerment, resources and job skills.
The second panel shifted the focus to persons with disabilities amongst
the displaced refugee communities in the Occupied Territories, Lebanon,
Jordan and Syria. Five years into the global economic crisis, with stagnant
recovery amongst donor countries, organizations operating within the
Occupied Territories face a shrinking pool of funds. This, coupled with
donor fatigue, means fewer resources to address the conditions
of people with disabilities in the Palestinian Territories.
Rana Al Zawawi and Hasan Husein of the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency compared their struggles working with Palestinians with disabilities,
both as refugees outside the Palestinian Territories and within the
Gaza Strip, respectively. As a Palestinian with disability living in
the Gaza Strip, Osama Abu Safer shared his experiences in coping with
a Gaza that had been broadly destroyed during the 2009 Israeli bombardment.
During plenary remarks at the days luncheon, Cherie Blair, co-chair
of the Shafallah Center and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, acknowledged the centers growth and expansion since the
forums 2006 inception.
Following Blairs plenary remarks, UN Under Secretary General for
Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos lauded
Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and the state of Qatar for their
efforts to alleviate the plight of those with disabilities around the
world. Offering a figure from the recent natural disasters in the Philippines,
Amos highlighted that only 120 out of 1256 peopleor 10 percent
of people with disabilities had shelter in hard hit areas after the
Philippine floods. Finding ways to manage and deal with these
issues is an important matter of discussion at this years forum.
On the second day, panelists discussed inclusion efforts for women,
children and minorities the world overfrom refugee camps in Kenya
to the flood plains of Pakistan. And disability experts addressed the
need for poverty-reduction strategies and independence amid a period
of profound global economic downturn.
In a discussion on community-based efforts to aid persons with disabilities,
Rooshey Hasnain, project director of the University of Illinois at Chicago,
called on the international community to take proactive steps in crisis
management, instead of addressing disasters in an ad hoc manner. Referencing
figures from Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane that devastated
New Orleans in 2005, Hasnain cited that nearly 25 percent of the
African-Americans who were affected by the storms destruction
However, she noted that even in the face of total chaos, natural disasters
could bring about positive change. After an earthquake struck Izmit,
Turkey, in August 1999, the Turkish community responded to its lack
of mental-health servicesone mental health specialist for every
100,000 citizens and a mere 50 child physiotherapists in the totality
of Anatoliaby expanding services to those with developmental disabilities.
Hasnain stated that although it took a natural disaster to spur change,
the Izmit earthquake was a teachable moment for the Turkish people.
Not all natural disasters have brought reform in affected countries.
Though both Bangladesh and Pakistan have suffered heavy flooding in
the last several years, they were still ill prepared to meet the needs
of more recent flood victims, let alone the needs of those with disabilities.
Nazmul Bari, director of the Center for Disability in Development, cited
the World Risk Report for 2011, which listed Bangladesh as the second
riskiest country for investment in the South Asia-Pacific region, because
20 percent to 68 percent of the country is prone to flooding.
Large-scale flooding causes major accessibility issues for persons
with disabilities, said Ghulam Nabi Nizamani, CEO of the Pakistan
Disabled Peoples Organization. He is from Baluchistan, a semi-arid
province in southeastern Pakistan that receives minimal amounts of rain
annually, overwhelming the region when torrential rains fell for five
hours and caused severe flooding.
Devon Cone, a protection officer with Refugee Point, shared her experience
of dealing with discrimination at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Northern
Kenya, one the largest refugee camps in the world with hundreds of thousands
of displaced Somalis.
Refugees with disabilities, specifically children, face harassment from
fellow refugees who are not well-versed in dealing with persons with
disabilities. In Dadaab, Refugee Point works for inclusive processes
of involving the disability community in outreach, education and planning.
She has found counseling intervention the most efficient and direct
way to improve the livelihoods of those with disabilities and their
families. Community support structures are an effective form
of raising the quality of life for those doubly discriminated against
in refugee camps.
At-risk women, children and minorities with disabilities, whether
displaced by natural disaster or conflict, compete with other victims
or refugees for goods and services and as a consequence, suffer two-fold,
said Cone. She highlighted that in an effort to ensure the safety of
children with disabilities in Dabaab, several women came together to
care for these children while their parents sought food, services and
Panelists called for local, community-based solutions to improve the
conditions of persons with disabilities that are proactive, not reactive,
as well as cooperative and direct, so as to create more efficient and
effective ways of addressing the many issues faced by those with disabilities,
whether in cities or refugee camps.
On day three, Ali Bin Ali held an international press conference, calling
for inclusion, implementation and reaffirmation of rights-based
frameworks in response to emergency and post-conflict scenarios.
He announced the creation of One Billion Strong, an international NGO
focusing on elevating the status of persons with disabilities. He defined
the objectives of the organization as petitioning to support the
true implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities through global awareness-raising of disability
issues and in-country development programs at the community level.
He summarized the forums three main recommendations on ways to
address disability in crisis and conflict scenarios:
- First, disability must be an integral part of all emergency and humanitarian response before and after a crisis hits, through sustainable development programs.
- Second, there is an urgent need for disability to be taken into consideration throughout all phases of humanitarian assistance. All humanitarian actors should ensure that emergency preparedness, response and recovery programs are inclusive, rights-based and respond to the needs of persons with disabilities.
- Third and lastly, the principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should underpin all humanitarian efforts and international protection frameworks, particularly Article 11 - calling on governments to develop National Action Plans or Policies, which identify strategic actions, priorities and resources, and determine responsibilities and timeframes at the national level.
At a gala dinner, HRH Prince Mired Bin Raad Al Hussein of Jordan
praised Her Highness and Ali Bin Ali for taking bold steps
with their formation of the One Billion Strong organization, and reaffirmed
bi-lateral cooperation on elevating disability issues. Rima Salah, deputy
executive director of UNICEF, lauded the state of Qatar for signing
and ratifying the CRPD and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.
Ali Bin Ali called on the forums attendees to sign the Shafallah
Declaration on Crisis, Conflict and Disability. By endorsing this declaration,
he explained, We will be encouraging adoption by the global community
of the UN-CRPD, and we will be establishing a concrete framework through
which to begin addressing the rights and conditions of people with disabilities.
Through ratification of the UN-CRPDspecifically resolutions that
support Article 11we will lift the status of the one billion persons
living with disabilities, of which 800 million live in poverty, 6.5
million of them being refugees or displaced.
Chet Cooper, editor-in-chief of ABILITY Magazine, sat down with the
chairman of the Shafallah Center after his press conference to get more
specifics on the new initiative.
Chet Cooper: Who came up with the idea of One Billion Strong?
Hassan Ali Bin Ali: Its an initiative which came from the last
forum where Her Highness asked all the first ladies from around the
world: What can we do globally for the disabled? The first ladies can
help us because they are near the leaders, and can talk to them about
issues that concern us. So weve created an organization called
One Billion Strong. We took the name from the World Health Report of
2011, which estimates that there are more than a billion disabled people
in the world. Weve registered the name in Geneva, and were
going to have our offices in London, because you can move towards Europe
and the U.S. easily. First ladies can share what theyve been doing
and their findings, when they are attending the United Nations sessions
or the Shaffallah Forum. Thats the idea.
Cooper: Do you have a mission statement yet?
Ali Bin Ali: No, because were just getting started. We wanted
to create awareness concerning refugee camps, in general, and to the
appalling conditions in which people with a disability are living, specifically.
Im sure that youve seen the documentaries on Uganda and
on the Palestinian camps. We really want to identify and address the
problems. This is one of the missions of One Billion Strong.
Cooper: Was One Billion Strong your first choice for the name of the
Ali Bin Ali: We considered a few names like D.A.R.E., but then we found
out that there is a drug progtam with that name. Then someone else came
up with For Me, Education For Me, Disability For Me, and that didnt
work either, because if you asked for support, you would have someone
writing you a check that says, Its for me, which was
really funny. (laughs)
Then when the 2011 World Health Organization report came out, and said
that there are more than one billion people with disabilities, someone
came up with the idea: Why dont you call it One Billion
Cooper: I just thought of a possible name! You can call it Citizens
with Ability for Social Humanity, and they can make the check out to
Ali Bin Ali: (laughs) That would be funny. Ultimately, we went with
One Billion Strong, and we are now working on a few programs. As I said,
the first one is the refugee issue. We are drafting a mission statement,
and we have a brochure.
Next well focus on what we call the Signature Program. And because
the rules of the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities
(CRPD) takes up five volumes, we condensed them into a manual that everyone
could understand; next were going to translate it into 10 languages,
including Mandarin, Japanese, and Braille, too, so that people who are
blind will understand their rights under the Convention.
Cooper: Will the programs be web-based, so you can access the condensed
Ali Bin Ali: Oh, yes.
Cooper: In your opening remarks you mentioned that youre working
with the first ladies of different countries; can you expand upon that?
Ali Bin Ali: Together, were looking at a range of humanitarian
issues, like refugees or poverty. We will sit with the first ladies
and help to prepare them. We can identify their need for training, and
possibly bring their team to train here in the center, or a team from
here could go and train their team where they live. Well talk
about different issues. Well identify what sort of centers or
establishment they need, and maybe we can build some units for them
and give it to them to take care of.
Cooper: So you may work and partner with other NGOs within the different
Ali Bin Ali: Definitely. The idea is to work with other NGOs. Well
try to work with as many of these organizations as possible, so that
we can make a difference in the lives of the one billion.
Cooper: Sometimes NGOs worry about working too close with other NGOs,
because they fear losing funding to the other organization.
Ali Bin Ali: We dont think in those terms. We want to sit with
other NGOs and other organizations and determine how we can work together.
Because sometimes one is working alone, and working together is more
Cooper: I was thinking you could produce other forums like this, where
you go to a region and theres an invitation to regional NGOs.
You could have One Billion Strong events in different parts of the world.
Ali Bin Ali: Someone did suggest: Why dont you have a forum
in Paris, and one in London, and one in the next place
are well-taken, and were looking into them.
Cooper: How did you initially get involved with the Shafallah Center?
Ali Bin Ali: Eleven or 12 years ago, Her Highness asked me to chair
the center, when it was a smaller organization.
Cooper: Did you have any connection to its mission?
Ali Bin Ali: I had been working with the Paralympics, and was the vice
chairman for the Arab Federation of Sports for the Disabled. And perhaps
someone advised Her Highness: You have a man who has been working
there, why dont you use him? Im a businessman, but
I do this as a volunteer.
When Her Highness first asked me to become involved, I thought it would
take a few hours of my time, but now it takes all of my time. Im
lucky that I have a daughter to run my business, so I can focus on the
Shafallah Center. I find it satisfying, and Ive always believed
In addition to our division for children with special needs, we now
have the capacity to include children who are blind. We also partner
with Best Buddies, and the top 10 genetic centers in the world.
Cooper: I was impressed by your opening remarks at the forum, where
you said that countries need to take a more aggressive role after signing
Ali Bin Ali: You have 153 countries that have signed, but signing is
not as important as ratification, so that the CRPD becomes a law. Today,
Finland has cleared the way to sign, so we have 110 nations who have
signed and ratified the Convention, which is great; it means that they
have to implement whats in it. Now Ron McCallum, of the CRPD,
will have to start monitoring and reporting his findings to the United
Cooper: Do you know which country was first to sign?
Ali Bin Ali: I think maybe Cuba. China was one of the first, as well.
As I mentioned, more than signing, its the spirit of implementing
the rules that matters most.
We have to talk and create awareness and reach out to the media. For
instance, in Beijing, after the Olympics, the Paralympics were two weeks
later. But most of the media closed down and left; they didnt
show the Paralympics. They stripped it out, which is not right. They
should have given the same opportunity to the disabled athletes as they
did for the abled athletes.
Cooper: Dont you think its a financial decision?
Ali Bin Ali: Possibly but BBC2, for instance, they televise the Paralympics.
But NBC, which makes large profits off the Olympics and Paralympics,
chooses not to televise it. This is what we want the media to cover.
It is news. This is good news.
Cooper: Twenty-two years Ive been doing this, and its still
amazing how hard it is to get people tounless they have a family
member or theyre connected
Ali Bin Ali: with the issue. If they are, then they will do something.
If not, they ignore it completely.
Cooper: As you adopt your goals for One Billion Strong, do you give
much thought to employment issues?
Ali Bin Ali: We do. By law here, 2 percent of the employees of any organization
in Qatar must be a person with a disability. Because when an abled person
and a disabled person go for the same job, the interviewer thinks maybe
the disabled should have the job, but he goes for the abled person because
he is worried about accommodations, and he has to provide accessibility,
the right atmosphere and environment. And this is where the problem
Businesses are obligated to hire the disabled, and obligated to modify
their facilities to accommodate the disabled. We also want to put in
place rulings so that new buildings and the pavement around them will
allow access for people with physical disabilities.
Cooper: Youre just now writing your disability laws?
Ali Bin Ali: We are a young country....
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Ali Bin Ali interview in New York during the United Nations Convention
for the Rights of People with Disabilities
Zainab Sultan, of Northwestern University in Qatar, worked with Forum organizer Brown Lloyd James, to interview several speakers, here are two:
Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Zainab Sultan: Is this your first time at the forum?
Marcie Roth: Actually I’ve been coming to the forum for the last four years, so this is my fifth time. When I came for the last forum and I was at the Souq (shopping area), my phone kept ringing and I did not want to take the call, as it’s expensive when you are on ‘roaming.’ But something in me told me to answer the call and when I did, it was the White House, asking me to come work for them. So Doha is a really special place for me.
Sultan: What is your impression of the forum?
Roth: The leadership of Hassan Ali Bin Ali and Her Highness Sheikha Moza has taken the world by storm. They not only focus on disability, but on the rights of persons with disabilities. Shafallah is a global pioneer because of the inclusive practices shared between communities. It is wonderful for us to keep this dialogue going. It gives us an opportunity to think differently about people with disabilities.
Sultan: How do you think the forum has evolved in the last five years?
Roth: It has been wonderful to watch each step of the way as Shafallah has brought together global leaders giving people a forum that no one else has. This is not happening in other parts of the world. Globally there are emergencies and disasters happening everywhere, and people with disabilities are left behind. There is no plan for them, and so communities are not prepared. Most people with disabilities won’t need medical care unless we fail to plan.
The first year of the forum we focused on research; the second year on education; the third year on sports; the fourth on rights; and this year on disability in crisis. This forum has its finger on the pulse of the issues affecting people with disabilities.
Sultan: Conferences or forums are often critiqued on engaging in a lot of discussion with a lack of follow up. How can we focus on implementing ideas discussed at the conference?
Roth: Shafallah is including and integrating not only people with disabilities, but everyone in the community. These projects are not simply or separately focused on people with disabilities or focused on people of this region—they have a global focus. It brings together different communities.
Sultan: I see that you are focused on integrating different communities, but given that the population of people with disabilities in Qatar is a smaller community, do you think that it will be overshadowed by other communities elsewhere?
Roth: I think it has been overshadowed in the past, but won’t be in the future. Forums like these will work as antidotes. The way to turn things around is by telling people what’s happening globally. I am excited that there are people who are expanding and are inclusive.
Sultan: The focus of this conference has been very international or on countries outside the region. What do you think about that?
Roth: In almost every corner of the world the notion of inclusive preparedness for people with disabilities is a new idea. Historically, we have thought “people with special needs” are vulnerable. It is not just that a disability makes you vulnerable, but it means that your community has a plan for you in a crisis.
Sultan: There has been a lot of talk about collaborating with media to bring out stories that could change perceptions about people with disabilities. But when there are new stories making headlines every day, how can we keep the focus of our audience strong, especially with donors?
Roth: We need to hold the attention of everybody, and everybody needs to plan this together. When we see media as a partner, and when we all work together, the whole is better than the sum of the parts.
ELIZABETH DA SILVA
Executive Director, Disabled People’s International
Sultan: Have you ever been to Qatar before?
Elizabeth Da Silva: This is my first time; Doha is beautiful. Personally, I think it is the most beautiful city in the world, and I’ve traveled all over.
Sultan: What makes Doha so beautiful?
Da Silva: It’s bright and has the snazziness of Los Angeles, and yet it’s so clean. It’s also calmer.
Sultan: What were some of the things that really stood out for you at the forum?
Da Silva: The Shafallah Forum has done a great job in inviting a diverse group of people, and yet everybody said the same things over and over again. They were talking about what was wrong and not focusing on recommendations. Many people placed too much emphasis on defining disability, and maybe we should try and look at cross disability.
Sultan: When there are new natural disasters or conflicts making the headlines every day, how do you avoid donor fatigue?
Da Silva: There is still a lot of focus on Haiti, but even after two years there is still a lot to be done. You want to help everybody, but you need to measure who has the structure and who doesn’t and what is the magnitude of help that is needed.
Sultan: What were some of the highlights for you at this year’s conference?
Da Silva: I think the theme was brilliant, and many people are not paying attention to this topic so it’s great to be hosting something like this. I have met with some amazing people from so many different parts of the world, including some people from Haiti whom I’ve always wanted to work with, but never had a chance to meet face-to-face.
Sultan: What changes or recommendations would you give for the next forum?
Da Silva: I think we should move on to the next phase where we can merge the UN’s Millennium Development Goals with the CRPD goals and work together. Creating partnerships at an international level is extremely important. .... read
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from the Hope-Dworaczyk Issue Feb/Mar
The Fifth International Shafallah Forum
Rebuilding After the Quake
Dworacyzk An Eclectic Career
Patricia Shiu Holding Contractors
to a Higher Standard
Traveling the World on Two Wheels
Book Excerpts How Do You Use Your Body?
in the Hope Dworacyzk Issue; Humor The Parent Trap; Ashley Fiolek
Teaching the Next Generation of Riders; Eleonora Rivetti
Italian Motocrosser Makes a Pit Stop; Sen. Tom Harkin Keeping
All Students Safe; Haiti Rebuilding After the Quake; Qatar
The Fifth International Shafallah Forum; Chris Wells Deaf and
Blind Student Earns PhD; Patricia Shiu Holding Contractors to
a Higher Standard; Documentary Traveling the World on Two Wheels;
Recipes Excerpt From the Forks Over Knives Cookbook; Hope Dworacyzk
An Eclectic Career; Smothers Brothers How They Won a Trip
to Washington; Assistive Golf Jack Nicklaus Designs a Course
for Vets; Book Excerpt How Do You Use Your Body? ; ABILITY's
Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...