She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Disabled children have enormous potential, but it often goes unnoticed because of public ignorance and disregard”.
She says also: “In my work I am often disheartened and exhausted, particularly as the lack of funds and government support makes everything so difficult and frustrating, but somehow I cannot give up”.
And she says: “It is only when young people can learn to accept and share their lives with their less advantaged contemporaries that we can hope for a more just and humane world, where everyone can live in peace and harmony with one another. I believe that people with disabilities are not asking: ‘How can I be the same as you?’ All they are asking is, ‘Please give me your hand and travel with me!’ We need to hold hands and travel together, all the way.”
Find many of her publications on the University of the AEGEAN, on the Uni Trier-Server, on the ACM Digital Library, on the Manchester Metropole University, and on the Scientific Literature Digital Library.
Daphne Economou – Greece
She works for the Cerebral Palsy Greece (see World Wide Links), and for one of the two Societies: the International Cerebral Palsy Society ICPS, or the newly founded International Cerebral Palsy Society I.C.P.S..
Daphne Economou has worked to improve the lives of people with cerebral palsy in Greece, to increase public awareness and eliminate physical, social, and legal barriers. With her leadership, commitment and love, she is the inspiring heart and soul of Cerebral Palsy Greece and has pioneered a wide range of essential services.
As chairperson of the International Cerebral Palsy Society, she is a voice for peace and social justice worldwide. She received the Gold Cross of the Order of Bienfaisance from the President of Greece in 2001.Daphne Economou was born and raised in India and educated in England. She lives in Greece with her husband and family. She had always dreamed of an academic career in history and literature, but because her own child suffered from cerebral palsy, she became involved in childhood disability. Since 1972, when she and her husband founded Cerebral Palsy Greece, she has been focused on promoting this cause. She was motivated to work with childhood disabilities in an effort to improve the lack of services for cerebral palsy sufferers in Greece. She stresses that after decades of civil war, people with disabilities were a very low priority; there was some concern for polio-stricken children, but those with cerebral palsy were practically ignored.
She explains: “I recognized the degree of prejudice and ignorance distorting attempts at real equality between the disabled and able-bodied. There was enormous potential to be found in children with disabilities. Because of public ignorance and disregard, this potential was often overlooked.” Daphne Economou is currently chairperson of Cerebral Palsy Greece, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions. She is involved in every facet of the organization’s work, though her main goal is to insure a harmonious atmosphere for the children and their parents. In order to remain in direct contact with the children and young people, she directs the organization’s drama group (a mixed group of disabled and able young people).
She is also active with the International Cerebral Palsy Society (ICPS) and was chairperson of its Executive Board for the last six years. She has traveled extensively for her work, has published numerous articles and has spoken at many international conferences on childhood disability. She has represented ICPS at the European Commission and Greece at the Council of Europe. She believes that the issue of disability is a universal issue that knows no borders. She stresses the importance of insuring the visibility of people with disability and using the media to advance her cause.
She considers it as important not to “personalize” these efforts, but for each of us to bring something of his own personality to his or her work and sense of leadership.
“We should know when to take a step back and let someone take over when appropriate. Basically, we should recognize that all the great work in the welfare field has been accomplished because someone, somewhere has refused, as Bob Dylan sings, “to turn his head and pretend that he just does not see.’”
She feels that the main obstacles are still prejudice, fear and unawareness: “We are still trying to change negative public attitudes toward disability. There are still some very cold and ‘racist’ attitudes, including violence against disabled people, similar to that committed against minorities. The right to be different is still not respected in many societies.”
Daphne believes that persistence, determination and a certain mad belief have helped her achieve some of her goals and that it is possible to make a difference if one tries hard enough. She feels blessed by a stable and supportive family and a wonderful team of colleagues. Daphne has had to deal with trauma, stress and depression, both in her life and in her work: “We lost our beloved child to cerebral palsy at the age of seventeen. After this devastating loss, I thought of giving up and burying myself in my books, but I realized that I owed it to Themos to continue offering brave and wonderful children like him a place in the sun.”
Daphne says that her greatest personal struggle has been the death of her child. “This is the ultimate painful experience for which there is no cure. From being a family with a disabled child, we became a family without its disabled child. We were profoundly bereft by his death.”
She is demanding of herself and others, but she dislikes any form of strife and believes that differences can always be solved, through peace and goodwill: “I believe that people are essentially good-hearted, although we live in dreadfully embattled and incoherent times. I have lived through wars and civil wars and all sorts of upheavals and I know that it is the weak who suffer most. It is impossible to care for the weak, the old, the poor and the disabled in conditions of conflict. Because of the role they often have as caregivers, women are acutely aware of the effects of warfare, which is why they are always against war.”
Daphne shares her knowledge and experience with the next generation by actively involving them in her work and bringing them into direct contact with their counterparts with disabilities.
Daphne works to influence cultural beliefs and traditions to be more supportive of social justice, particularly through the arts. She says that poetry, music, dance and painting provide messages that touch peoples’ hearts and help them understand and believe in one another: “We need to use our art and culture to bring people together, to keep our traditions alive in order to preserve a just social order based on peace, love and mutual respect. When we remember that some of the world’s greatest geniuses had disabilities we realize that sometimes the fairest fruit may hang on the weakest branch.”
Daphne insists that we need to do much more for people with disabilities all over the world. She elaborates: “Jung said that ‘life’s most serious problems are never truly solved. If ever they should appear to be, it is a sure sign that something has been lost.’ It is a journey that will last a life time, but the purpose and the reward are in the traveling and not only in the arrival.
“We need to continue breaking the barriers of ignorance and prejudice. We must insist on better legislative measures, more equitable funding, and more sustainable programs. We have a great deal to learn from one another and we should never ‘preach’ to those who may be less advanced technically, but often are culturally more sympathetic to the weak. We should discourage aggressiveness, militancy and exclusivity against the disabled, tendencies that are leading to a new and dangerous form of segregation. We need each other if we are to succeed.
“Science is providing us with new solutions, but with new challenges, too. We must remain aware of future developments, without sacrificing the lessons of the past.”
When Daphne Economou reflects on the kind of support she needs to accomplish and sustain her work, she replies, “Financial support is extremely important, however a common purpose and close cooperation are equally necessary. Most of all we need to create a peaceful world in which to live and work. I have colleagues caring for disabled children in Gaza, Nepal, Iraq and Kenya. Many of the children’s disabilities are the direct result of war. Meanwhile, grenades and bullets are still coming through the windows. Armed soldiers are bursting into classrooms, homes are being destroyed and parents are being slaughtered. When men wage war for greed and power, with no thought or provision for the young, the weak, the sick, the old…how can they talk of freedom? The twentieth century has seen some of the greatest atrocities in human history. More than half of humanity is comprised of women and children. When is somebody going to listen to our voice?”. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).