Private US Foundation Extends Open Hands to Syria
09/09/2010 - Issue 43
Adopting President Obama's mantra, major public diplomacy effort—including jointly developed superheroes, art, and music—promotes bilateral cooperation
Hazem Ibrahim, Secretary General of Syria's National Council for Disability Affairs
American businessman and philanthropist Jay T. Snyder has launched a comprehensive private effort to engage the people of the US with Syria and the wider Arab and Muslim world. "The Open Hands Initiative"—a reference to President Obama's extension of an "open hand" to anyone who will take it in friendship—will create a platform for exchanges between artists, entrepreneurs, and youth with disabilities. The Initiative launched in Syria this month, featuring a conference of American and Syrian youth with disabilities who will jointly create the world's first cross-cultural superhero with disabilities for a comic book series to be published and distributed throughout the world.
"I am thrilled that the Open Hands Initiative is making such a dialogue possible between the community of the disabled of Syria and the United States. If countries can join hands and work together to improve the condition of the most marginalized people in the world, then anything is possible."
-Hazem Ibrahim, Secretary General of Syria's National Council for Disability Affairs
The comic series, which will promote equality, inclusion, and cooperation, will eventually expand to contemporary issues in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Through creating positive and culturally sensitive role models, the series will seek to raise awareness of common human values and enable youth to better handle difficult real world situations.
Among the launch programs in Syria, the Open Hands Initiative hosted the "Youth Ability Summit" which brought American and Syrian youth disability advocates together to share experiences and create strategies for promoting the rights of youth with disabilities. Interactive and peer-to-peer sessions with US & Syrian children, parents, educators, and experts, took place in Damascus which served as the meeting grounds for this exchange.
Youth worked together with artists and experts to create the innovative comic series for promoting equality and inclusion while reflecting common Syrian and American values. Partnering in the Summit are the Victor Pineda Foundation, an educational non-profit organization that promotes the rights and dignities of young people with disabilities, and AAMAL Syrian Organization for the Disabled, dedicated to empowering individuals with disabilities.
Hazem Ibrahim, Secretary General of Syria's National Council for Disability Affairs, commented on the Initiative, "I am thrilled that the Open Hands Initiative is making such a dialogue possible between the community of the disabled of Syria and the United States. If countries can join hands and work together to improve the condition of the most marginalized people in the world, then anything is possible."
Asked about their current efforts Ibrahim answered, “We’re trying to make sure that people with disabilities find it easy to go around, enroll in public education facilities, and find a job after graduation, leading a normal life. This way they’d be economical assets to their households not liabilities. A prerequisite of that is attitude change, and cooperation and coordination of the ministries—society should look at abilities not disabilities.”
The summit will also produce the first cross-cultural guidebook for implementing the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities authored jointly by disability experts in Syria and America and to be used by Syrian, American, and global disability advocates. Continued dialogue will continue through dedicated forums on the Open Hands websites.
Also being launched is a project to bring Syria's rich and vibrant art and music scene to American audience, and foster new collaborations that fuse both cultures.
The Open Hands Initiative is partnering with ECHO Musical Cultural Association, a Syrian cultural musical arts society NGO, to facilitate the production, distribution, and exchange of local Syrian music.
Later this year, The Open Hands Initiative will bring together prominent American artists to Damascus to co-teach young Syrian artists with Syrian counterparts. The works resulting from this workshop will be exhibited in Syria and the US through partnerships with top art galleries in both countries.
Major 2010 resolutions for people with disabilities:
"Employment Law #17 states that private corporations with 50+ employees need to employ 2% of their staff with individuals with disabilities. Additionally one thousand new public transportation buses will be accessible for people with disabilities."