Wednesday, February 08, 2023 | Rajab 16, 1444 H
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Champion of disability rights passes away

Have you been using the ramp instead of the steps? You have Mukhtar Mohammed al Rawahi to thank for.

From the 1990s to the millennium, he worked tirelessly to ensure each public building was accessible for all.

He campaigned, questioned and recommended organisations and individuals to promote inclusiveness. He was doing all this before accessibility and inclusiveness became popular terminologies.

In the early 1990s, I met Mukhtar at Sultanate of Oman Television. He was one of the senior video editors for programmes. Profession aside, he was the Chairman of the Oman Association for the Disabled. He had a vision, and he was not going to settle for anything less for the welfare of the members of the society who were physically challenged.

As a journalist, I was still hesitant to ask what caused his disability, but he was practical in explaining it.

He wanted to change society's attitude on how it viewed physical disability.

Mukhtar was an abled body individual who had to be on a wheelchair due to a car accident. He was only 20-year-old when he met with a car crash on a morning that changed his life forever.

He had said, “Those days there were no seat belts. The car skidded due to ice. I was traveling with friends to work, and I remember on many other occasions, I had spoken to my friends about fitting seat belts in the car for our own safety, and here we were in the accident - I was thrown out of the car. It resulted in a spinal injury,” he explained in the interview with Lahunna Oman.

The shock must have been a challenge on its own, but he adapted and excelled by building a career, being a social worker and a pioneer in championing the rights of the disabled, whether it is education, jobs or accessibility.

His spirit to overcome challenges had him move towards sports to demand rights for the disabled. Mukhtar took up Table Tennis and other team members took up individual sports and they traveled abroad as a team.

Speaking to Lahunna Oman, he had said, “In Sultanate of Oman there was no segregation. Men and women who had disabilities had their rights. But women were not that active in sports. They did not have teams, also did not have the special equipment needed.”

Marhoon Bati al Ghafri met Mukhtar and soon, he joined hands with Mukhtar. He has been with Mukhtar as a board member of Oman Association for the Disabled. “What can I say about Mukhtar? He started the whole awareness about the needs of disabled individuals in Oman. He started the Association. We will be forever grateful to him.”

“The Omani Association for Persons with Disabilities lost today one of its main pillars, the spiritual father of the disabled in the Sultanate (Mukhtar bin Muhammad al Rawahi), the former president of the Association, who throughout his life had been striving for a safe and stable life for the disabled in the Sultanate of Oman. He was the first person to represent the disabled in the Sultanate of Oman and abroad in the local and international forums.

He was loved among the people and among all the disabled, and he did not differentiate between one and the other. All are equal. He was a spiritual father for the disabled. He entered the sport of the disabled and was one of the first disabled athletes in the Sultanate. He participated in several tournaments. He was a manager and player in the foreign games where the disabled team participated. We hope from God, the highest, he will enter heaven and his soul may rest in peace,” Marhoon said.

Tariq Khabouri, a social worker who has also been working for the welfare of the disabled and several other NGOs, was also closely associated with Mukhtar.

He reflected, “Mukhtar was dear friend and used to deal with him on various subjects on how to improve the life of friends with special needs and afterwards the authorities understood his point and then there was ramp in every building so our friends can move without any problem. Afterwards, he made sure there was parking space designated for them and for the visually impaired. He worked to have lifts with facilities so that they can go on any floor without assistance. It is a setback, our friends will have lost their pioneer. I am positive someone will take over his mission soon. Mukhtar, we will miss you and God bless your soul.”

They worked together for many campaigns such as Race Aid, and the walk-in cooperation with Muscat Municipality to purchase lighter wheelchairs to make individuals’ movements easier, formation a club and so on.

“The media supported the cause, so spreading the cause and awareness was easier. We went to international events, Paralympics in the UK and in 1988 we were at Seoul,” he had recollected. Most importantly, the team brought back home medals.

A former journalist at Oman Observer, Mariam Khalfan, had the opportunity to interview Mukhtar on several occasions. “Mukhtar was friendly and always ready to provide information whenever we covered the Oman Association for the Disabled events. He was an advocate for the rights of the disabled. He was strongly against people who occupied parking marked for the disabled. He wanted a penalty for people who did so and he succeeded. He pioneered the Paralympic movement in Oman and connected the Oman Association for persons with disability with other global associations. He did not leave any stone unturned in fighting for the rights of the disabled, whether it was a child, adult or the elderly. It is sad that this chapter has come to an end. Even though we all have to go through this but saddened for the loss. One of the causes also was land for the disabled. He ensured that every disabled person had access to a wheelchair. May his soul be blessed always.”

In the last interview he had said, “There is nothing to it - disabled people are disabled,” indicating that disability is not about special needs. They can do what others can, but they need support. There are variations of disabilities. They cannot be just referred to as special needs. For example, people who wear glasses have special needs. I am grateful to see His Majesty Sultan Haitam bin Tarik giving support to the disabled as it will give them the opportunity to lead a noble life and be involved in the society.”

That has been his goal in life - have the disabled members be the contributing members of the Omani society. He was exceptionally proud of Majida for accepting her challenge and taking up the profession of nursing, and currently practising occupational therapy.

“Mukhtar al Rawahi, for me, is the icon of the disability movement in the Sultanate of Oman. I met him in the Omani Association for Disability in the early 90s, and he is the person who encouraged me for the value of voluntarily work,” Majida Sabir al Balushi.

He was a dedicated person in helping everyone and educating the community about the rights of people with disabilities. He is the one who encouraged me to go for my higher studies and to be an occupational therapist.

I have learned a lot from his positivity, and from his will to overcome the disability. He used to say, "There is nothing impossible if you have the will."

Working with him as a committee member in the Oman Association for the Disabled people as he was the association's founder taught me how to be an advocate of the rights of the disabled people.”

She added that Mukhtar devoted his life to the rights of persons with disabilities in various aspects, from their rights to sports and accessibility.

“I never saw him complaining of the obstacles or the challenges but always advising and guiding what is to be done to improve the life of disabled people.

This impacted me to change my thinking - things will never change by only seeing the problem but finding and suggesting the solutions.

My deepest condolences on the loss of such iconic person to our disability society.

And I am glad I had the chance to know such a motivated and inspirational person. In my life, who had a strong and positive impact on my life,” reflected Majida.

He achieved his goals and has now left a legacy for others to take up.

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