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Reference : V-P-AF-E-02767
Date : 03/11/2020
Country/Region : AFGHANISTAN
Caption : Kabul, Ali Abad orthopaedic centre. Alberto Cairo, head of the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation programme in Afghanistan, in his office.
Photographer : SAMIMI, Masoud
Person appearing :
CAIRO, Alberto (chef du programme orthopédique, Afghanistan)
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : ICRC website, article, 09.12.2020
Helping the physically disabled in Afghanistan: a lifetime’s work
Kabul, November 2020 — On a crisp, blue-skied November morning, the Ali Abad orthopaedic centre in Kabul – a sprawling compound catering for the needs of some of the most disadvantaged people in Afghan society – is a hive of activity and enterprise.
For Alberto, who arrived in Kabul from his native Italy in 1990, it has been his life's work to build up the ICRC's physical rehabilitation programme into what it is today. One of the many remarkable things about the orthopaedic centres – and in Alberto's eyes one of his greatest achievements – is the fact that nearly all the 815 staff themselves have disabilities.
"We implemented this positive discrimination policy from the very start, only employing physically disabled people to work in the centres," says Alberto. "It is good for everyone. The staff understand the needs and challenges first-hand, and for the patients, it gives them hope and motivation," he adds. "It was hard work at first convincing people this would work – even the ICRC – but I was absolutely determined. Today we are much more focused on inclusion and I don't think anyone would reasonably question the logic of what we are doing here now."
The staff understand the needs and challenges first-hand, and for the patients, it gives them hope and motivation.
When there were no more jobs available, Alberto started up vocational training and micro-credit programmes – initially for paraplegics and eventually for all patients with disabilities. Over the years, almost 11,000 small loans have been given out for enterprises such as tailoring, carpentry, welding, or petty trade in firewood or fruit and vegetables.
"This scheme really offers some hope and opportunity for people who otherwise would have few, if any, prospects," says Alberto. "Unfortunately, this is another victim of COVID, as we've had to scale back considerably for the time being at least."
For Alberto, one of the most exciting developments in the programme has undoubtedly been the growth of the sport in recent years, particularly wheelchair basketball. "Even I used to think that sport for people with disabilities was more of a luxury than a necessity," he says, "but there are so many positive aspects. Physical rehabilitation and inclusion and just simple fun. It's pure joy to see."
The fact that Afghanistan has national wheelchair basketball teams successfully competing abroad – with players being treated, albeit briefly, as celebrities - has helped perceptions a lot, according to Alberto. "It has helped people to understand that disability does not preclude a normal life – or as near to a normal life as possible," he says.
At 68, and now an honorary Afghan citizen, does Alberto plan to retire in the near future? "I need to keep being useful to be happy," he smiles. "So even if I retire, I will stay here and remain involved in disability and sport in one way or another. But I have a dream job, and I'm not ready to stop quite yet. There's still a lot to do."
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Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour