On Handicap International's anniversary, Jean-Baptiste Richardier, Handicap International's Executive Director & Founder, reflects on the organization's first three decades.
“The outrage that led to the foundation of Handicap International 30 years ago stemmed from an unshakable determination to help 6,000 Cambodian amputees left out of the humanitarian relief effort launched in aid of the Khmers people. Lost amid an unprecedented exodus (up to three million people were crammed into makeshift camps on the border with Thailand) this particularly vulnerable group was not provided with aid adapted to their needs. Providing specific aid during emergency relief efforts was not the done thing back then.
"To combat this blatant violation of their rights, we had to fall back on our own resources, the stubborn determination of the families concerned and the support of the community. Later, in Laos, then under embargo, we were able to rely on the incredible ingenuity of village communities. In Angola and Mozambique, we learned how to work in an almost clandestine manner under civil war conditions, which we were to rediscover a few years later during the endless Balkans conflict.
"A series a major natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Armenia in 1988 and Haiti in 2010, underlined the importance of supplying immediate aid to the injured during emergency situations. The discovery of Romanian orphanages in 1991, led us to extend the scope of our activities to include mental health.
"Our determination to help the most vulnerable groups, including in extreme situations, has proven its worth. We have earned the legitimacy we need to combat certain now illegal weapons — landmines and cluster munitions. This same determination drives our teams today and motivates their tireless efforts in nearly 60 countries: in the Dadaab camps of Kenya, the schools of Rwanda, rehabilitation centers in Haiti and Liberia, with the families of people with disabilities in Colombia and Burundi, and the victims of forgotten diseases, such as filariasis, in Burkina Faso, and on land contaminated by mines and cluster munitions in Laos, Mozambique and Lebanon.
"Our history is intimately connected with the most terrible injustices of the last 30 years. It would not be complete without mentioning the amazing people who have helped us, and the fraternity that exists even under the worst possible conditions. It is this mutual support that motivates us to carry on, to provide tangible, practical solutions to problems, made possible by the help of local communities and the spirit of solidarity. This is something that has never failed us: in every culture, in every part of the world, families never give up. It is our duty and our responsibility to do the same.”