President and members of the Spinal Injuries Association, representatives from the Vodafone Foundation, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to attend this handover ceremony for mobility and assistive equipment from the British charity PhysioNet UK.
I would like, if I may, to give a bit of background for those who may not know about the work of this UK charity. PhysioNet was established in 2005 after one man’s visit to Sarajevo. Whist there, he recognised the desperate need for special needs and mobility equipment prompted by a request from a children’s home. From this one visit, PhysioNet has gone on to provide specialised equipment to thousands of children around the world who need it most. As many of you are well aware, that man is Peter Thompson.
Physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other professionals in the UK provide PhysioNet with equipment that is no longer needed or requires minor repair. Inmates in British prisons together with PhysioNet volunteers repair and refurbish the equipment which is then distributed to countries around the world where there is greatest need. PhysioNet has sent consignments similar to this to 17 countries. But the charity needs recipient countries and organisations to be able fund the shipping, clear customs, provide transport, and to distribute fairly and effectively to those most in need. PhysioNet have made a particular point of telling me that the Spinal Injuries Association and their partners the Vodafone Foundation are one of the few that ‘tick all the boxes’.
It is therefore not by chance that this is PhysioNet’s fifth consignment to Fiji in as many years. And, though others will explain in greater detail, that also goes some way to explaining the fantastic golden chair you see here: this represents the 1100th wheelchair to be sent to Fiji. And to further prove the strength of the link with Fiji, it may be a happy surprise for you to hear that amongst those who helped load this consignment were the sons and daughters of four Fijians serving with the British Army, based in the UK. A truly fitting send-off.
In 2012, London was fortunate enough to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which delivered Fiji’s first Olympic gold medal for Iliesa Delana. He has since embarked on another jump – this time into politics, and we wish him well. The Commonwealth Games that finished in Glasgow earlier this month were another showcase for Para-sport athletes: with over 22 medal events, Glasgow constituted the biggest ever Para-sports participation at the Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately, Fiji was unable to bring home any medals this time. But the increased international attention on Para Sports can only be a positive for both the development of athletes and for disabled people in general. Nowhere is this more critical than Fiji.
I am therefore very proud to be supporting in a small way PhysioNet’s work, and am honoured on behalf of PhysioNet UK to formally hand over this latest consignment of equipment to help improve the lives of people living with disabilities in Fiji.