30 years of action in aid of the most vulnerable people
Handicap International celebrates its 30th anniversary on Thursday 19th July 2012. Present at the scene of major humanitarian disasters and conflicts, Handicap International is committed to supporting disabled and vulnerable people in situations of poverty and exclusion.
Now running over 320 projects in nearly 60 countries, the organisation has evolved and transformed over the years to respond to the new humanitarian challenges posed by the rise in the number of disasters, a breakdown in security, and the worsening of extreme poverty. Our goal is to remain present during emergencies while planning our actions over the long-term.
Handicap International was founded in 1982 by two French doctors and their friends to support hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees. Fleeing the terror of the Khmer Rouge regime and the occupation of their country by Vietnamese troops, the refugees set up huge makeshift camps along the Thai border. Among them were 6,000 amputees, mainly victims of anti-personnel mines, lost and invisible. They were deprived of humanitarian aid specific to their needs, despite the presence of a large-scale international relief effort.
Jean-Baptiste and Marie Richardier, along with Claude and Marie-Eve Simonnot, set up the organisation to help these vulnerable people. Using the refugee’s own skills and locally-available materials, they opened 17 small-scale workshops producing prostheses within just a few months. These workshops would operate for another 13 years: as long, in fact, as refugees were present.
Jean-Baptiste Richardier, now the Executive Director of the Handicap International Federation, recalls “We owe a lot of our success to this extreme situation. The need for action was really obvious to everyone: that’s why the service we provided was seen as extremely effective.”
Handicap International’s teams have supported people affected by the worst natural and man-made disasters over the last three decades, in countries such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Haiti and many more. We specifically support people with disabilities and their families, and more generally people made vulnerable by these trying conditions and facing major difficulties on a daily basis.
Over time, the organisation has broadened the range of its activities to include meeting basic needs during emergencies, caring for injured people, providing orthopaedic-fitting and rehabilitation services, and also maternal and child welfare, supporting families dealing with HIV/AIDS and exclusion, preventing armed violence, promoting road safety, along with inclusive education, income-generating activities, training local professionals, and providing support to community organisations.
Thanks to its commitment and legitimacy as a field operator, Handicap International made a major contribution to the success of the campaign to ban anti-personnel mines. From 1992, the organisation denounced the “programmed massacre and inaction of governments” and founded, with five other NGOs, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, whilst also running mine clearance operations. This determination led to the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 - which has now been signed by 160 States - and the joint award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the ICBL’s founder members. These same organisations went on to found another campaign that lead to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in 2010 and bans another indiscriminate deadly weapon.
Over time, our organisation has transformed itself into a truly international organisation to meet the challenge of providing aid and support to the most vulnerable groups following conflicts and disasters; but also to combat the effects of poverty and the shortcomings of health and social systems; to intensify its prevention work focused on specific risks which are among the major causes of disability; and to lead campaigns to advance the rights of people with disabilities.
Today, Handicap International consists of eight national associations based in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. In order to increase their impact and guarantee their financial independence, these eight national associations have formed an international Federation. This substantial network is capable of mobilising increasingly high levels of private and public funding, influencing the decisions of funding bodies, raising public awareness and recruiting specialists from around the world.
Beatrice Cami, Handicap International UK
Tel: +44 (0)870 774 3737
Mob: +44 (0)7525 101 026