By Mohammed Zaatari
SIDON: Leila's physical disability has not prevented her from living her life and earning a decent living, thanks to a growing project aimed at promoting the social and economic integration of the disabled in Lebanon.
Leila, 30, is suffering from polio and, until recently, had been unable to find work.
The project was organized by the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union and financed by the Italian government and the Italian NGO CTM-Lecce.
Silvana Lakkis, the union's president, said the project offers vocational rehabilitation and job opportunities for disabled people across Lebanon.
According to a 2000 law, she added, each public or private institution must fill a hiring quota that stipulates 3 percent of total staff should be comprised of disabled persons.
"Unfortunately, this quota was not implemented for several reasons, including the incompetence of disabled," Lakkis said.
Funds from the project have paid for the renovation of the Physical Handicapped Union's center in Sidon.
In a speech delivered during the refurbished center's inauguration ceremony on Monday, Italian Ambassador Franco Mistretta said the two-year project "aims at increasing working opportunities for physically disabled persons through adequate vocational training, as well as awakening the Lebanese political and public opinion on their economic contribution to the society as a whole."
According to the ambassador, 15 such development projects are in progress in Lebanon.
Franco said the total funds committed for these projects "is over 20 million euros, out of which 10 million euros are granted by the Italian Development Cooperation and the rest is provided by the executing Italian NGOs and their Lebanese partners."
Mistretta said the disability project was organized in cooperation with the Social Affairs, Labor and Education ministries and the Council for Development and Reconstruction.
"The center offers trainings in computers and the fabrication of architectural maquettes for local, Arab and international construction companies," Lakkis said.
Sitting in her wheelchair in front of her colleague, Leila works on a new maquette.
"This is a great job," she said. "Finally I could overcome my disability and become productive."