The small but growing staff of Handicap International here in the United States celebrated the first anniversary of its creation on February 8th.
The first twelve months have been an exciting time as we found offices, held our first board meetings, and recruited staff. Within four months of our incorporation, we had raised funds to support mine clearance in Mozambique and to assist a rehabilitation clinic for people with disabilities in Cambodia.
A little background:
In the early 1980s, thousands of destitute, sick and wounded Cambodians fled across the Thai-Cambodian border to take sanctuary in refugee camps. They were met be a group of young French doctors who were appalled to discover that hundreds of their patients had become permanently disabled because they had the great misfortune to step on a landmine while fleeing. Many were struggling to care for themselves and their families while attempting to move about on home made devices made of whatever they could find around them.
Handicap International, born of that crisis in 1982, is now the largest international NGO of its kind, specializing in providing crucial assistance programs to men, women and children disabled by armed conflict, diseases like polio or HIV/AIDs, natural disaster or poverty. Handicap International now works in some 60 post-war and low income countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the Balkans. Following the creation of HI in France in 1982, HI offices opened over the next decade in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Canada, and, most recently, the United States.
The U.S. office is located in Takoma Park, Maryland, just across the street from the District of Columbia (metropolitan Washington, DC). Incorporated in the District of Columbia in February of 2006, we received our 501(c)(3) tax exempt recognition as a public charity from the federal government in June.
The first half of 2006 was filled with administrative and legal work as we set up the office. Web site development and program support work dominated much of the second half of our first year. By mid-year 2007, we will have recruited our first program support officer to oversee our growing portfolio of assistance projects in Mozambique, Cambodia, Brazil, Nicaragua and Iraq.