CHERIE Blair, noted human rights lawyer and wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, will be among the more than 250 delegates descending on Qatar to participate in the third Annual International Shafallah Forum, that begins today. The Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs vice- chairman Dr Saif al-Hajri said yesterday the theme of the forum would be ‘Sport and Ability’.
Among the delegates will be officials from the International Paralympics Committee, academicians, lawyers and athletes, al-Hajri told a press conference.
Research papers from professors, trainers and experts will be centred on the theme of empowering the disabled, athletes and champions of special games. International Paralympic Committee president, Sir Philip Craven will deliver the keynote address today. Some of the other leading participants are Bob and Suzanne Wright, founders of Autism Speaks and First Lady of Panama, Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos.
Along with sessions on building confidence through sports, fitting disability into the university model and breakout sessions on sport, social inclusion and mass media, there will be symposiums on topics such as Special Olympics. A photo exhibition will be held on the sidelines of the forum.
“We have certainly come a long way since organising the first International Shafallah Forum on disability. Qatar is endeavouring to promote the centre, while understanding the obligation that physically-challenged children must enjoy the same rights,” Dr al-Hajri said.
Present at the press conference were the Shafallah deputy director, Sameera al-Qassimi and board member Sheikh Khalid bin Jabor al-Thani.
Al-Qassimi, who will present two papers during the conference, said: “Qatar is applying great importance to not just sports but sports for all. In this context, the role of Shafallah and the improvements it had undergone since its establishment will be highlighted during the conference.”
Sheikh Khalid al-Thani said the message from the Shafallah centre was that of hope.
On whether the annual conference’ theme of Sports and Ability was purposely chosen to complement Doha’ candidacy for the Olympic 2016 bid, Dr al-Hajri said: “Doha is known to be a sports loving city. However, the international community will see once again (during the forum) that Doha has the capability to host different events of global importance.”
When asked whether the local society continues to stigmatise a child with disability, Dr al-Hajri said the awareness campaigns took time.
“People in Qatar are finally starting to behave right, the family attitude is changing. Now they take the handicapped child to public malls and parks. This was not happening six or seven years ago,” he said.
“We must be patient and continue to educate the society.”
Sheikh Khalid pointed out that at Shafallah every child had one counsellor each.
“Even in the world’s best institutions there is only one counsellor for at least three students, while in most cases the ratio is one to five. This shows how committed we are.”
A set of recommendations are also expected at the end of the forum, officials said.
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