The 2-day Conference was opened with the participation of Ms. Majida Al Masri, Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs representing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Mr. Jihad Zakarneh, Deputy Undersecretary for Educational Affairs at the Ministry of Education, Mr. Børge Brende, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, PRCS President Dr. Younis Al Khatib and numerous PRCS members and employees.
In his welcoming speech, Mr. Maher El Natour, Head of the Rehabilitation and Ability Development Program at PRCS, underlined the importance of this key Conference which will enable PRCS to respond to needs and to keep up on developments in the fields of rehabilitation and ability development.
Mr. Al Natour said that this Conference shall discuss numerous key issues relating to disability, including facilitating the life of disabled persons through all possible means; the rights of people with disabilities (legislations and in practice); complementarily between the rehabilitation program and the Society's various programs and services; implementing community-based rehabilitation programs throughout Palestine; developing work relations with the government; cooperation with NGOs to enhance rehabilitation programs nationwide; providing guidance and psychosocial counseling to the disabled and to their families through rehabilitation programs; and scientific follow-up of rehabilitation and ability development processes.
Minister Al Masri said that this conference, its objectives, significance, level of participation and agenda constitute a lever to enhance rehabilitation and ability development services nationwide. She expressed her pride in PRCS and in its continuous unique strive to provide the best services to Palestinians in Palestine and in the Diaspora. "I have witnessed part of PRCS's action in Lebanon and I acknowledge its heroic role there as well as the brave work done by its teams during the latest war on the Gaza Strip. We in the PNA and at the Ministry of Social Affairs consider ourselves as key partners of PRCS with common programs, especially in the field of rehabilitation in which PRCS is the pioneer. We cooperate with PRCS on a daily basis through the General Directorate for Rehabilitation and Ability Development", she said.
Furthermore, Minister Al Masri highlighted the achievements made in this field by the Ministry. "The Ministry has taken giant leaps in the field of Ability development through establishing the above-mentioned Directorate, the Higher Council (with PRCS membership), and the Fund for Persons with Disabilities in order to provide greater facilities and increase the number of beneficiaries. Given the increase in the number of disabled Palestinians due to Israeli measures, the Cabinet and the Ministry have endeavored to promulgate a number of decisions towards implementing the Disabled Persons Rights Code and the Disabled Persons Card. The budget for the first phase during which different surveys are to be held has been approved, she said."
Mr. Jihad Zakarneh, Deputy Undersecretary, said that PRCS is a pioneer national Society with great responsibilities and huge achievements. "PRCS is a key partner of our Ministry and of every Palestinian. A national integrated plan for the Disabled must be drawn and adopted, and more responsive activities and programs are needed to work with this category, to boost their families' capacities, to provide them with training, to cover their needs, to help them deal with their offspring, and to enhance partnerships with organizations working in this field", he added.
Mr. Børge Brende, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, spoke of the good and extensive ties between the two Societies. "PRCS cares for marginalized populations, especially the disabled. On the sidelines of this Conference, I have visited PRCS Rehabilitation centers in Gaza, Ramallah and Hebron, and I admire what they do and the services they render", he said.
Brende, whose country is a key supporter of PRCS's Rehabilitation and Ability Development Program, said he is proud of the huge efforts made by PRCS in this field through networking with its partners, executing programs and developing capacities.
"This Program has made great achievements: Students from the Total Communication School have sat for the Tawjihi (High School) General Exams, and two of them have passed the exams with success. This provides motivation for disabled persons in general and helps ensure their integration in society", he added.
He reiterated the Norwegian Red Cross's engagement in support of Palestinian humanitarian issues, mainly disabled persons, as well as continued support to efforts made by PRCS through its services and programs.
PRCS President Dr. Younis Al Khatib expressed his pride at efforts made by staff working in the field of rehabilitation and ability development at PRCS. "This is great and valuable work which brings much benefit to Palestinians", he said.
He valued the signing of the two agreements with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education, and underlined the positive impact of such agreements on rehabilitation and ability development in the Palestinian society in general in order to provide support to an important category of Palestinians, i.e. people with disabilities.
In addition, Mr. Al Khatib said: "Mechanisms to assist disable persons will continue to be developed as a main priority for PRCS. It is important to organize scientific conferences in order to develop our action and to enrich the proceedings of PRCS's General Assembly held once every four years".
Al Khatib touched on the huge role played by PRCS partners and by partners of the rehabilitation program, mainly Norway, Sweden and Spain. "The first PRCS headquarters were established in Jericho in 1994 with support from the Norwegian Red Cross", he recalled, and hoped that the Palestinian government will work to implement the Disability Law approved around 10 years ago but which has not yet been fully implemented.
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