03/05/2008, 00.00
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Funds meant for NGOs helping disabled people stolen before Paralympics, Olympic leaders told

In an open letter the founder of a Chinese NGO slams the state-controlled China Disabled Persons' Federation for misappropriating donations and property and for causing the closure of three centres and about ten family shelters for the disabled as well as the demise of a programme built up over 12 years that has allowed more than 150 disabled people to become socially integrated. She also slams the police for holding many disabled people during the Special Games.

Rome (AsiaNews) – In an open letter to the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees, Meng Weina, founder of the Huiling Community Services, said that the Olympic Games must be “centred on people” and that China must be made to understand that grassroots activism is not a danger. For this reason when it comes to the disabled the international community has a duty to do all in its power “to help us grow and not leave us alone in our battle.”

Ms Meng, whose organisation operates in eight major Chinese cities, was moved to write by an incident that occurred in Shanghai last October when policemen seized a group of disabled people, their guides and parents from her own organisation because they took part in the last day of the Special Games without authorisation even though they had participated in the week-long event taking place in the city.

Neither reason nor warning was given for the action. About 80 police agents and security volunteers held up the hundred or so people from the Huiling Community Service on the last day of the event before packed them on a train homebound.

For Ms Meng the authorities do not understand the reality of the people and view grassroots activism as potentially dangerous. Hence the country must be “made to understand” how to treat people and not left alone. “What happened in Shanghai cannot happen again.”

In her letter the founder of the Huiling Community Services also took a close look at the situation of NGOs involved in helping the disabled, which are at the mercy of government-backed associations. In Guangzhou for example the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF) is able to do whatever it wants, and this has put the Huiling Community Services in jeopardy. The CDPF has bought close to 4 million m2 of land to build a huge centre; this is very likely to undermine the facilities the Huiling Community Services run (three centres and about ten family shelters) as well as a programme built over 12 years that has allowed the organisation to socially integrate more than 150 disabled people.

Since about 560,000 people living in Guangzhou are disabled and that the facilities that do not already meet their needs, one may wonder why the government should waste so much money for another facility in an area already served by others.

The letter also said that with “the excuse of providing services to the disables it (the CDPF] has siphoned off money meant for the disabled themselves.” With local sources backing the allegations this is a clear indictment. Funds from private sources meant for NGO have been misdirected into government coffers and CDPF accounts.

Here is the full text of the letter Meng Weina wrote to the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees.


Mr President:

Hello! I run a non-governmental body (Beijing Huiling Community Service) which provides services to disabled people (a non-profit entity managed by an elected but unpaid board of directors). By ourselves and with our own money we organised a 100-member Special Olympics fan team for disabled people, staff, parents and volunteers and stayed in Shanghai from 4 to 11 October 2007.

It all went well and we were very happy until 5 pm on 11 October when police and Special Olympics volunteers caught up with us, took us back to our hotel and held us there till 11 pm. We were deprived of our freedom; the scene was pathetic, moving and frightful. At midnight most police officers were gone but we were still locked up in the hotel. The next day, police “accompanied” us to the railway station and put us on the train that was leaving Shanghai. Since they first came for us until our forced departure, exactly 24 hours had passed.

Why all this? The reason is simple: since our group was created outside normal governmental channels, in a country like China it was deemed dangerous and “potentially harmful.”

After what has happened and thinking about the upcoming 17th Communist Party Congress, I chose silence. The final report of the Congress has encouraged me a lot, but I also faced an inner struggle because I was no longer certain that it was right to remain silent.

Today the pledge made by the Communist Party to its people has pushed me to write this letter to the International Olympic Committee, namely the promise to broaden the people’s democracy.

I wrote this letter to the International Olympic Committee not because I want to criticise Shanghai police but as a committee you have taught China so much, like how to organise the Olympics in Shanghai and Beijing, but you left out the most fundamental element, namely that as a principle everything must be centred on people. It was the first time that Shanghai hosted the Special Olympics and it will be the first time that Beijing will host the Olympics.

As a closed society China cannot easily understand and put into practice the “principle of participation.” China’s government is too accustomed to a top-down system. It either does not understand or does not want a “bottom-up” system. As soon as ordinary people organise themselves by themselves even once, than the police is on top of them.

Did you know that because of the need to rehearse the show and renew the infrastructures some of the most disabled children in Shanghai were forced to go without essential services for two or three months? Did you know that some NGOs working for the disabled for decades have failed to get government approval? Even our own survival is at stake.

In recent years the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF), a government body, has opposed those non-governmental groups it did not like, monopolising fund-raising and resources, including buildings. With the excuse of providing services to the disables it has siphoned off money meant for the disabled themselves.

Faced with this kind of behaviour private groups have had to rent new facilities at hefty prices in lieu of those they lost to the CDPF. This so-called Federation and other government bodies like it involved with the disabled have successfully denied NGOs the right to raise private funds.

It is not hard to understand the causes of what I just said. I was forced to criticise the International Olympic Committee in order to urge it to be an example and fulfill the principle which is at the basis of the Olympics, i.e. the idea that everything must be centred on people.

I would like to write much more but perhaps it is better that I stop here. Everything else can be found in what I have not said. What we want is that what happened to disabled people in Shanghai never happen again during the Special Olympics.

Meng Weina, founder of the Huiling Community Services which works on behalf of the mentally disabled and a member of the Olympic movement ‘Participation, Dedication, Happiness.’

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