The Turin Centre, a place at which to participate and learn
Interview with Mr. Hazem IBRAHIM, Secretary General for the National Council for Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, Syrian Arab Republic, a participant in the training programme on “Labour market inclusion of people with disabilities” at the ITC-ILO, Turin, from 27 September to 8 October 2010
Could you tell us something about your role in your Ministry?
I am from Syria, and I am the Secretary General for the National Council for Disability Affairs, in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. This Council has many representations from ministries, the public sector, NGOs and, most important, persons with disabilities, since it is in charge of disability issues at national level.
What were your individual and institutional objectives in attending the course?
I was already serving as a member of the Council. I had just taken up my position when I was offered the chance to participate in the course. I am not the Chairman of the Council: the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour is. I am the CEO. I thought the programme was a big opportunity both personally and institutionally, because of the importance of its topic. Employment of people with disabilities is my second top priority, the first being their inclusion in the educational system.
Once in Turin, I found that the course was indeed interesting, since participants came from different cultural backgrounds and we could learn from the experience and best practice of others: what works and what doesn’t work for other countries. We discussed market labour inclusion of persons with disabilities, but also legal frameworks, institutional issues, advocacy and lobbying. I was very inspired to come to this course and my institution considers my training and networking with other participants very important.
Can you tell our readers something about your experience on the course?
I think that the course was really transforming, because, personally, I did not have strong international experience of disability before coming. I was aware only of the Syrian and Middle Eastern context. Now, I have gained an international perspective, since I met people from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The course was not only interesting but a real transformation, and at the same time inspirational and an opportunity for networking.
Do you think you have gained new ideas and insights into issues?
Absolutely. By learning from other people’s experience, I have gained information on different national models, on different times and historic moments when countries embraced disability issues. I have had an opportunity to learn from other participants about models that work, updating them, and new ideas. I will try to tailor these to the Syrian context.
In addition, we saw the ILO’s contribution. We had field visits to different places in Italy, such as cooperatives, the vocational and rehabilitation training centre in Milan, and the public employment service in Turin. All of these gave us real insights. The course modules are all based on interaction, and the interactive nature of the course was extremely important for learning from other people, for reflection and for discussion. All of this made us grow and learn together.
What do you plan to do after you go back home? Has this course given you input and ideas for action?
I definitely plan to present what I have learnt here to my colleagues and other stakeholders. We all have to take into account what I learned here, in terms of strategies, plans, tactics, programmes and ideas, and try to see how we can fit them into our system. Especially now that in Syria we have embarked on an institutional journey in terms of employment for people with disabilities, based on a new approach, a new model. So it is all very timely. I am currently drafting a by-law on private sector employment and there are several ideas that will contribute to the new text.
What impact do you think the course will have on your work? And on your organization?
I have a national plan and I am in charge of making sure it is implemented. I will ensure that this cross-cutting issue be spread about even more. I will take with me many ideas for the media, other ministries and stakeholders who sometimes are not thought of as being involved with this issue.
Will you include colleagues?
Definitely. I have already said that it is not only me: I need other people to be on my side, other policy-makers, and I will definitely suggest that other colleagues come to this course. The optimum would be to have this kind of course at a regional level, where the language barrier could be overcome. We could consider this another disability, because many people cannot speak English. Having a customized course for the Middle East region, based perhaps at ILO Beirut, could be an idea. I will definitely recommend this course and I wish I could attend it myself again!
How did you feel here at the Centre during your stay?
I like the campus. It is very well organized, very clean, very neat, very nice. It is also very accessible for me, being a person in a wheelchair. I would say it is almost 95% accessible. I won’t say it is perfect, since there is always room for improvement. I felt so independent, so autonomous in moving around. I enjoyed the company of people from different cultures. I liked the Centre’s diversity, the opportunity to meet people from countries you may not even recognize on a map, and this is certainly a strength. Here you meet people from different backgrounds, be they professional, ethnic or religious, and I believe this is a very powerful place for networking.