EDF Board meeting Malta - while repairing my faith - Reisverslag uit Malta, Malta van Jolijn Santegoeds - WaarBenJij.nu EDF Board meeting Malta - while repairing my faith - Reisverslag uit Malta, Malta van Jolijn Santegoeds - WaarBenJij.nu

EDF Board meeting Malta - while repairing my faith

Door: Jolijn Santegoeds

Blijf op de hoogte en volg Jolijn

26 Februari 2017 | Malta, Malta

A week ago, during the weekend from 17 to 19 February 2017, I was in Malta, to represent ENUSP, the European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (http://www.enusp.org ) at the Board meeting of the European Disability Forum (EDF, http://www.edf-feph.org ), which was held in the Qawra Palace Hotel in St. Pauls Bay, Malta.

This blog comes rather late, because I am recovering from a disturbing situation in the Netherlands, as explained in my previous blog, the Dutch authorities reject any option for remedying the injustices of forced psychiatry in the Netherlands (no access to justice, and no appropriate law reform). I faced these disturbing disappointments just days before the EDF Board meeting in Malta took place. Due to these circumstances I had been hesitating whether I should go to this meeting at all, but I am glad that I went there.

On Thursday 16 February I started my journey. I left Eindhoven with the latest train to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and spent the night there, taking a 7 AM flight at 17 February to Rome (FCO Rome also happens to be the name of one of my first sets of professional rollerblades, so that was a nice thought). In Rome I had a transit to Malta, where I arrived around 12.30, and then together with other arriving participants, we took a minibus to the Qawra Palace Hotel, where EDF the board meeting was held. It was a hotel on the seaside, with a lovely view and a fresh sea breeze. I considered myself lucky to have this experience of travelling and seeing so many places. I hoped it would take away the pain of recent Dutch disappointments. Yet the contrast between luxury and neglect is also a bit confusing. I decided to focus on the EDF meeting, and just try to enjoy the atmosphere, and reload as far as I can, and leave my personal questions regarding my activism in the Netherlands for when I got home again. When people asked me how I was doing, I mentioned the Dutch disappointments, and I got many kind and supportive reactions. That really warmed me. It was empowering.

On Friday evening 17 February, we had a luxurious welcome dinner in a 5 star restaurant, including a cultural event with music, welcoming speeches and several honorable awards being given to several persons who play significant roles in the disability rights movement of Malta. Finally the buffet opened, and I had a very nice evening with great company. I had good laughs and nice conversations. I felt good. I really felt welcome, which enabled me to put the feelings of Dutch exclusion somewhat to the background. I considered myself lucky to be able to escape the Dutch context for a few days at the Maltese sea side, surrounded by beautiful people who understand the pain attached to the struggle. Their understanding and support helped me. We help each other in making the CRPD real, together we can do more than alone. And it feels good to share the goals together. None of us is alone anymore. The solidarity is inspiring. I had a nice evening.

On Saturday 18 February 2017, at 8 AM we were expected at the registration desk for EDFs thematic conference on supported employment, which was scheduled for the entire morning. We all had to be sharp on time, since the EDF thematic conference would be opened by the H.E. President of Malta, Mrs. Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, and we would welcome her properly to thank her for her willingness to participate at this event. It was positive to see the high-level interest. It showed me again that not all activism is in vain at all places. Clearly EDF and the Maltese organizations managed to succeed in getting this high level attention for this event. That is a positive thing.

The thematic conference was on Inclusive Workplaces: Employment of persons with disabilities in the labour market. This topic isn’t really within my core expertise, so I mainly listened and learned more about some interesting concepts and terminology, such as Supported employment, Sheltered employment, Inclusive workplaces, and Social Economy. There are no unified definitions or understandings of these concepts on a European level, in every country it involves different practices. Attempts are being made to come to more unified understanding of these issues.

An official summary of the thematic conference can be found on EDFs website:

At the end of the conference, during the time for questions from the floor, I made a critical remark. I stated that indeed the right to work is a very important topic for many persons with psychosocial disabilities, and indeed payment enables a lot of things in life. Yet, in current European cultures, work is seen as validation of the person, and the stigma of unemployment is big. This is a real life challenge for many people. Yet obviously, there is more to life than work, and this is hardly addressed in EU contexts, which is giving out the wrong signals to the population. Social justice is generally neglected at large, and human rights seem to be narrowed down to the economic aspects of employment. I don’t agree to the idea that work should be regarded as “the passport to social life”. I highlighted the topic of Basic Universal Income, which is a modern concept of restructuring income to ensure everyone has a basic income to cover basic needs for existence, as a basic human right. The Basic Universal Income can replace outdated concepts of “earning existence by working”. The right to exist can be secured separately. The right to work could then be more about realizing ones potential and fulfilling dreams, and creating an optimal system to fulfill all needs . I think EDF should take a position on this modern concept which is getting more and more attention all over the world.
Afterwards I received many compliments on this intervention, and the topic will be analyzed further by EDF, which has installed an active task force on the topic of Social policies, Employment and Education.

Then it was lunch time.
In the afternoon, the formal part of the EDF Board meeting started, which was mainly about internal affairs and strategic choices of EDF, many of which I cannot reflect in this blog. It was important to discuss the working structures of EDF for 2017, and to decide which Committees and Email Expert Groups would be active this year. I suggested an email expert group on the Council of Europe affairs, which was accepted. Further on, I mainly listened and agreed to what was said.

This year, in 2017, EDF is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and to mark this milestone, a celebration campaign will be launched, with a focus on participation, highlighting the key slogan: “Nothing about us, without us” (CRPD article 4.3). A video and an information package will be launched soon by EDF, and then, EDF members can easily refer to this campaign in their work.

The meeting lasted quite long, till 18.30. In the evening, there was a buffet dinner in the restaurant downstairs, and afterwards a joined a group going to a pub nearby, the Cheeky Monkey. I had a nice time in good company, sharing laughs and interesting stories. After all, it was a Saturday Night.

The next morning, Sunday 19 February, I woke up early again, in my hotel room at the 8th floor, with a beautiful sea view and a balcony, which was a nice experience in itself. I had to leave after the breakfast, so I couldn’t join the last part of the board meeting. I waited for the minibus that was arranged to pick me up to go to the airport together with several other participants. I had a good journey back home. Again my hair appeared very popular among the staff of the flight, including picture requests, and I felt welcome like a VIP. What a life. What a contrasts with the political rejections.
Somehow it was a bit depressing to travel back to the Netherlands, but then again, when complete strangers express their compliments about my style, it reminds me that life is bigger than the ignorance of the authorities. I can move beyond. What a very special life I have...

The last part of my journey back home, I was travelling without a suitcase, since upon arrival at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, my suitcase appeared to be missing, and I found out it was still in Rome. It was delivered to my home 2 days later. Yet looking at this from VIP perspective: “I didn’t even have to carry my own suitcase home”. Lol! I can still smile.

So after all, I am proud to say I managed to hang on, It was a good choice to go to EDFs meeting in Malta, and to get out of the Dutch context. I managed to fulfill the responsibilities for ENUSP in EDFs Board. And I may not have written a detailed report on the thematic conference on Supported Employment itself, but within EDF all the information is available for those who are interested in this.

I also managed to live through the harsh disappointments the Dutch authorities are giving me recently. I can see that life is much bigger than the ignorance of the authorities. And I proudly represent hope in the darkness.

I have to believe that I can actually make a difference, and that it makes sense to try this via advocacy. I had lost this hope for a moment, but I am creating renewed hopes and beliefs already.

And now, bit by bit, I am getting back on my feet again, and re-installing my belief that change can be made. The anger is fueling me, and the kind words of support are helping me to turn the pain into new hope. The support shows me that there is a lot of love in the world as well. And that, in turn, mends my belief that change is possible.

So finally, after a hard time, I am crawling up again, and finding my way. I am managing to sort out the shattered pieces, and slowly my beliefs are coming back to me, and I slowly feel the ground coming back underneath my feet. After all, I do believe that change is possible, and that advocacy is not in vain at all places. I do believe humanity can grow.

Finally I start seeing possibilities again. This means I am retrieving my hopes and dreams again!!
It has been a really tough challenge, but I will make it through!!
I am not broken. I can see new light, finally!

I suppose it will take some more recovery time, but I am already making big steps in regaining new perspectives.

“The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become” [Something inside so strong, Labi Siffre]

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