Afghan leaders in St. Louis for education on disabilities (Afghanistan)
ST. LOUIS - Visitors from Afghanistan, some of them disabled, are here for two weeks at the invitation of Saint Louis University to learn to deal with a large number of disabilities in that country, many of them from land mines.
The four visitors, to be joined by three more in a few days, are also getting ideas for setting public policy for the disabled under Afghanistan's new government and constitution.
While here, the Afghan visitors are touring schools, hospitals and independent living centers, and learning about laws that ensure rights for the disabled.
While Afghanistan's constitution protects such rights, the challenges facing the country are enormous. Two million of Afghanistan's 28 million citizens are disabled.
A fourth of the disabled are war and land mine victims. Other disabilities arise from birth defects from arranged marriages among relatives, and poor maternal-child health care.
Afghanistan is littered with land mines left over from almost three decades of conflict.
Saint Louis University had planned to assemble a team of U.S. experts to Afghanistan, but security concerns prevented their travel to that country. After three attempts, the university decided to bring Afghans to the U.S.
The visitors - two women and two men - work for government ministries and non-governmental organizations. Two suffered from polio. One is blind.
They are working for the disabled to have equal access to education, jobs and full rights of citizenship.
Twenty years ago, disabilities weren't even discussed in Afghanistan, said one of the visitors, Parween Azimi, a 42-year-old trainer for an Afghan disability organization who lives in Kabul.
But people who fled to escape the war saw how other countries incorporated disabled citizens. "They came back with new knowledge," she said. "Now everyone wants (disabled) children to be educated."
A big push of the government and various NGOs is to clear Afghanistan of land mines and to make its citizens, especially children, aware of their dangers.
Less than two weeks ago, a child herding cows stepped on and detonated a mine south of Kabul, killing two children.
The Landmine Monitor Report 2005 says Afghanistan is one of three countries - along with Cambodia and Colombia - with the highest number of reported land mine victims.
Azimi has special concerns for women, and said being female in Afghanistan is disabling enough. A physical impairment on top of that means Afghan women suffer a "double disability."
One of the organizers, Karen Barney, who chairs Saint Louis University's occupational science and therapy department said the U.S.-Afghan partnership is about providing hope for people regardless of disability.
While here, the visitors will get some time to play tourist, and have a potluck dinner with Afghan residents who resettled in the city.
Von: 10.5.2006 by CHERYL WITTENAUER, www.kansascity.com