Circle of Friends to attend SIDS conference, milestone for persons with disability, says director

Circle of Friends, a non-profit agency dedicated to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities–emphasizing youth and children with disabilities and special needs–is thrilled to share the exciting news that it is one of the few organizations chosen from a pool of more than 300 applicants worldwide to participate in the upcoming 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The conference, which is being held in Antigua and Barbuda, is scheduled to take place from May 27-30, 2024, under the theme “Charting the Course Toward Resilient Prosperity,”

The SIDS Conference is anticipated to be one of the region’s most pivotal events in a decade, with more than 1,500 delegates. It comes at a critical time and serves as a pivotal platform for tackling the unique sociocultural, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges faced by SIDS locally, regionally, and worldwide.

“Participating in SIDS 2024 is a milestone for my organization, Circle of Friends and also for the other organizations of persons with disabilities who have collaborated and partnered with me,” Executive Director of Circle of Friends- Dominica, Beverly Leblanc told Dominica News Online (DNO). “Getting the special accreditation to attend and participate is an honourable opportunity.”

She continued, “The journey to where we are started in 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic where a group of disability advocates, persons with disabilities, policy stakeholders came together through a WhatsApp group that has generated so many discussions and shared best practices.”

Leblanc added,” I recall my first statement on the Friday night Zoom meetings that if the governments of the region are unable to bring the region together then we have a responsibility as organizations of persons with disabilities and stakeholders with vested interests in ensuring that people with disabilities live [a fulfilled] life. We can do that,”

She believes that the group has the capacity, ability, human resource, expertise to do just that.

“This was evident in 2022 when we all partnered together with the Antigua and Barbuda association of persons with disabilities and the Government of Antigua to ensure that a successful 5th continental congress was held,” Leblanc noted. “Out of this, we came together again from different regions with different skillsets to develop the Declaration of St John’s, which we did successfully through a series of meetings.”

According to her, this is a testimony that as a region, “if we put our heads together and we come together we can achieve the goal.”

“And we are achieving the goal,” she indicated. “The goal is to ensure that people with disabilities have a place at the table, their voices are heard, their needs will be met, policy makers within the region, within the Small Island Developing States internationally, locally and regionally will understand the challenges that organizations with persons with disabilities and people with disability face.”

Leblanc pointed out that, “You don’t just want to bring that awareness, we want them to take action. Disability is what they have, disability is not who they are.”

Meanwhile, she said Circle of Friends has forged partnerships with regional organizations to host a side event at the conference where, at the regional level, “we will be shining a spotlight on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and special needs.”

The theme of the side event, “Enabling Inclusion: Addressing Disability Challenges”, underscores the importance of investing in human capital in SIDS by addressing disability and special needs issues and harnessing the potential of people with disabilities and special needs. This presents an invaluable opportunity for organizations representing persons with disabilities and special needs to have a voice at this prominent forum.

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