Yekaterinburg made values visible

Four years of preparation and extraordinary cooperation between individualists, NGOs “Blagoe Delo” together with “White Cane” and the Government of the Sverdlovsk Region made it happen – the First World Congress for Persons with Disabilities took place in central Ural in Yekaterinburg. The event was widely attended by 714 delegates from 30 different countries. Delegates came from all continents; the biggest international delegation arrived from Germany, with more than 200 participants in it. For most foreigners, this was their first visit to Russia. The First World Congress gathered people with diverse kinds of disabilities, including nearly 50 wheelchair users among them.

Three days before the opening, the entrance of the main congress venue – Concert Hall “Kosmos”— was destroyed by a fire. It was a big shock. Confronting such unfortunate circumstances, the governmental organizers managed to find a new venue and adapt the program. They displayed impressive professionalism, as all this readjustment was done in one day.

As a preamble to the Congress, on the first day an exhibition of rehabilitation and assistive technology was opened. There, one could observe cutting-edge products designed to improve daily lives of persons with disabilities. About 1300 persons attended the opening ceremony in the evening. About 3500 additional viewers worldwide watched it online. The Russian President and the Governor of the Sverdlovsk region addressed the audience expressing their appreciation of the Congress. This was indeed unprecedented – since the inception of the movement in Berlin in 1998, no political leader has ever supported or taken notice of these congresses for persons with disabilities. The opening ceremony vividly demonstrated how human values can be made visible if provided with the right means or supported by the right circumstances.

The second day opened with a panel discussion featuring participants from Russia, New Zealand, Nepal, France and Belgium. A Swiss who could not attend personally addressed a very important letter to the audience. In the evening, participants of the Congress were invited by the Philharmonic Orchestra to listen to their marvelous performance of pieces written by famous Russian Composers. Without a doubt, it can be said that the majority of listeners have never been on such an occasion before.

In the morning of the third day, the main stage hosted a wide variety of artistic performances featuring artists with disabilities from all over the world. 43 diverse workshops and about 45 guided sightseeing tours to the most interesting city neighborhoods were offered to the delegates during the days of the Congress. Unluckily due to the weather forecast the prepared Inclusive City Festival had to be moved from Central Park to the Congress’s main venue. Yet, despite such weather conditions, hundreds of participants decided to attend planned activities in the Mayakovsky Park where they took a ride on the historic railway and planted 30 young trees, one per country in attendance, for the First World Congress Alley. Meanwhile a several-hour-long exclusive Art Festival, many workshops, games and fair exhibits took place at the Congress center. And everything was of course open to Yekaterinburg’s citizens and guests of the city.

The fourth, final day’s panel discussion featured best inclusive practices from all over the world. The audience heard about the ways in which persons with disabilities significantly contributed to the development of their cities and countries. Later, at the closing ceremony, an open-mic session was held where everybody could express their thoughts and emotions about the preceding days. Taking this chance, the delegates shared what this event meant to them. A Congress’s resolution, was read in Russian, English and German. It says that these congresses serve as an effective tool of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Nearing the conclusion of the ceremony, five congresses were announced that are to be held within a year. Everyone in the audience was encouraged to spread the word about these congresses in their countries!

The organizers from Russia presented a gift for the benefit of future World Congresses for Persons with Disabilities. It was a precious World Congress Book decorated with Ural gemstones. The famous Russian song “Kalinka” finalized the ceremony. Immediately after, the organizers released white doves into the sky as a sign of continuing cooperation between all people. The final point of the Congress was the World Congress Ball that gathered over 1000 dancers from all around the globe. Showing their nicest gowns and happy faces, the First World Congress finished with a huge cake for everybody and a never-ending impression that something very precious has been achieved together at this great event.

For this Congress, the government of the Sverdlovsk region managed to mobilize a large number of volunteers and helpers. Their support was enormous and the guests from all over the world appreciated the region’s hospitality very much. The delegates left Russia knowing that a gemstone in uniting people had taken place in the middle Ural at the border between Europe and Asia. It was a true festival that made values visible.

Bolshoe spasibo Yekaterinburg – bolshoe spasibo Ural – bolshoe spasibo Rossija!