The Swedish Rheumatism Association, SRA, and other organisations for disabled persons have joined together in an association called SHIA. SHIA is part of the Swedish aid organisation SIDA. SIDA provides most of the money for the different projects, that SHIA runs. Of special interest for this conference are the projects concerning the new candidate countries to the European Union in the Baltic states.
Many of the organisations within SHIA have their own projects for providing help in different ways, e.g. SRA and organisations concerning diabetes, heart-lungs, asthma-allergy and mentally retarded young people. We all work close together with our “sister-organisations” in the Baltic states.
Together we have a project for establishing the UN Standard rules for equal accessibility in Latvia. During the Soviet time many disabled persons were “hidden” and didn’t have the possibilities to come together with other or to come out in the fresh air regularly. Many persons still don’t have the means we have for daily living and for going out, but things are now changing very quickly for the better.
The SRA has, together with the corresponding organisation in Latvia, a project to establish a democratic organisation for, and led by, patients. It all started with some doctors and nurses from Latvia, who came to Stockholm to study rheumatologic care. We met with them and told them about how patient organisations, and SRA in particular, work in Sweden, and it was then decided that SRA should help them to establish a patient organisation in Latvia. We have allowed money in our own budget for this, and we also cooperate with SHIA. I’m sorry to say that SIDA has cut down our allowances, so we have to choose very carefully what we can afford to do!
The Latvian organisation, LKLSSB, was founded only three years ago. They now have some hundred members and are represented in eight Latvian regions. They offer a lot of activities for their members: lectures, study groups, excursions etc. They also work with/for young people in their organisation and also cooperate with Unga Reumatiker (Young Rheumatics) in Sweden.
Some of our Swedish “ombudsmen” have been in Latvia to help our Latvian friends to establish the organisation, e.g. with list of members, how to run a democratic association, computer-work, how to write/translate and print brochures and booklets, and how to engage media and politicians to help in information and legislation etc.
In our common work we have also found, that we have a lot to learn from our Latvian friends. They are not stuck in traditions and old habits, they have new fresh ideas, and as they start “from scratch” they can choose priorities and build up a new society with better possibilities for disabled persons.
I have taken part in this project for two years now, and it has made a great impression on me to see the progress and the enthusiasm in the Latvian work!
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