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August 18, 2017

Seminar on Independent Living for Persons with Disabilities held in Lahore

PhotoOne of the youngest beneficiaries of the project sharing her experience living on an electric wheelchair

Lahore; 18 August, 2017: "I felt the strong will to move forward despite the numerous challenges, and most of all, I've been amazed by the endless support shared within members of the community. I cannot imagine how hard it could have been for all of you to make the one step necessary to move forward". With these words, Mr. Yasuhiro Tojo, Chief Representative of JICA Pakistan Office, addressed his speech to the participants of the "International Seminar on Inclusive Sustainable Development Goals through Mobility Devices", held at local hotel here today.

The event was organized by Pakistani Non-Government Organization (NGO) Milestone Society for the Special Persons, as a final seminar to present the activities conducted together with the Japan Council on Independent Living Centers (JIL), and the help of the Sakura Wheelchair Project under the "Project on Promoting Independent Living of Persons with Severe Disabilities by Utilizing Electric Wheelchairs in Lahore, Pakistan". The project has been funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) under the scheme of JICA Partnership Program (JPP), and has been implemented from 2014 for a period of 3 years (until November 2017). It aimed at fostering the Independent Living (IL) of persons with disabilities in Pakistan by providing a total of 200 used electric wheelchairs from Japan, along with implementing a series of workshops on maintenance of the wheelchairs and on Independent Living (peer-counseling, para-sports events, etc).

The seminar saw the participation of guests from the Pakistani Government, civil society, beneficiaries of the project and local community, as well as representatives from the Embassy of Japan in Pakistan, Counsellor Mr. Takashi Harada and Second Secretary Mr. Yuta Shiotsuka. In his speech, addressing to JIL and Sakura Wheelchair Project, Counsellor Harada stated "I am proud of your consecutive support for the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan. It is not only the contribution to the improvement of the PWDs' conditions in the society, but I believe you have definitely accomplished the substantial relationship between societies in Pakistan and Japan".

During the seminar, Ms. Masako Okuhira, an Expert on Independent Living who came from Japan for this occasion, made a presentation on her experience as a disabled person in Japan, and on her lifework in training disable persons from all over the world. Some of her pupils, including Milestone President Mr. Shafiq Ur Rehman and his colleagues, also presented their experiences on how their lives changed before and after the receipt of wheelchairs. They all reiterated that wheelchairs are parts of their own body now, and it enabled them to step out from their house walls and independently engage in everyday activities outside. Their voices were full of gratitude and hope, for it seemed they have been given a second chance to enjoy their own lives as they should.

Independent Living (IL) is a movement born during the 1960s in the United States, which claims that "disability is not in the body but in society", and disabled persons should be able to enjoy their lives not differently than non-disabled ones. Its purpose is to foster the personal and collective self-initiative from the disabled community in designing and promoting better solutions for their social participation, and involve political leadership in creating a non-discriminative, inclusive, barrier-free society.

The seminar served as an opportunity to give the word to disabled persons who gained confidence and strength by receiving electric wheelchairs from Japan. Their positive, acceptant behavior towards their disabilities has provided a powerful influence for others in the same conditions, who are usually grounded – mostly by their parents and relatives who are often ashamed to let them out – in bed, despite they can contribute to society in different ways.

By involving the local community in this great cause, the project has been receiving positive feedbacks from the policy makers as well, who are making their best in enhancing the barrier-free infrastructures in Lahore.

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