Unbelievable:”This is Marios” – Alone student with cerebral palsy due to lack of funding – Cry for help

Marios, a high school student who suffers, among other things, from spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, is fighting alongside his family for a better quality of education, as three weeks after the start of the school year, the Ministry of Education has not secured a school escort due to a lack of funding.

Source: To Thema Online

Ablebook collaborates with Metropolis Mall for More Accessibility and Inclusion

Ablebook is an application that provides information and services related to the accessibility of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in urban centers and villages across Cyprus. Through the application, users can find information about accessible locations, view photos of these places, communicate with businesses, and report issues they encounter in a particular location. Additionally, the application includes information about public parking spaces for PWDs throughout Cyprus.

Ablebook is an application that provides information and services related to the accessibility of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in urban centers and villages across Cyprus. Through the application, users can find information about accessible locations, view photos of these places, communicate with businesses, and report issues they encounter in a particular location. Additionally, the application includes information about public parking spaces for PWDs throughout Cyprus.

The first feature of Ablebook is an interactive map that allows users to select their desired destination, showing them the most accessible route. They can also view available accessibility facilities at each location through photos and directly communicate with businesses in case of need.

The second feature, known as Ablecard, is a membership card exclusively for people with disabilities. Through this card, users can enjoy additional privileges at businesses collaborating with Ablebook, such as discounts and special offers.

The third feature of the application, the Kids section, provides information about accessible spaces where children with disabilities can engage in sports and various activities.

The last available feature is the Ablebook Portal, which allows businesses and municipal authorities to manage their locations within the application and update their content. This ensures that accessibility information is always up-to-date and compliant with standard specifications.

The collaboration between Ablebook and Metropolis Mall is a step towards creating a society of equality and inclusion. With the accessible facilities and services offered, Metropolis Mall sets an example for other businesses to follow, making our community more accessible for everyone.

“They tied a child’s wheelchair with a rope” – Serious allegations before the Parliament

The strong concern and anxiety have been raised regarding what was heard in front of the Parliament, concerning the way and means of transporting children with disabilities. There were reports of a disabled wheelchair being tied with a rope inside a bus that was transporting students to and from school. Furthermore, the absence of clear legislation was presented as the perfect excuse for government services to justify the unjustifiable.

The Human Rights Committee, in response to a letter from Kostas Groutidis in which he explained the ordeal his son went through to attend school trips with his classmates during the previous school year, opened the issue of violations against children with disabilities within school units.

Mr. Groutidis mentioned in his letter that during the first school trip of the previous school year, the children were transported by a bus with only one seat for a wheelchair, but there were two children, resulting in his son being tied incorrectly and, during a sudden stop, falling off the seat. As for the second school trip, Mr. Groutidis did not allow his child to board the bus, as there was no room for two children, ultimately transporting him to the excursion location himself. A location that was not accessible.

The problems with the transportation of children with disabilities have also been highlighted by the President of the Association “Agalia Elpida,” Youla Pitsiali, who stated that this issue should have been discussed for years. She explained that the first violation against these children is the violation of their right to access education since, as she pointed out, these children are subjected to an evaluation by third parties to decide, without the children’s and their families’ input, whether they should be placed in mainstream classes or not. “They prohibit access to the classrooms, and we let it happen because there is no legislation. Then parents are discouraged from sending their children to school because they are told that they will be mocked, that there are no examination essays, and we let them be bullied.”

Mr. Augustinos expressed his dismay at the lack of legislation to address these specific issues and called on the Parliament to take action, emphasizing that it is time for decisions to be made and initiatives to be taken.

On her part, the President of the Association “Agalia Elpida,” Youla Pitsiali, in her statement, mentioned that this issue should have been discussed for years. She explained that the first violation against these children is their exclusion from education since, as she pointed out, these children are subjected to evaluations by third parties to decide, without the children’s and their families’ input, whether they should be placed in mainstream classes or not. “They prohibit access to the classrooms, and we let it happen because there is no legislation. Then parents are discouraged from sending their children to school because they are told that they will be mocked, that there are no examination essays, and we let them be bullied.”

Regarding the issues with buses, Ms. Pitsiali noted that it has been a problem for years, and in 2017, with the initiative of the then-president of the Federation of Parents of Municipal Education, Morfaki Solomonides, a program for accessible buses was implemented because there were no buses to meet the needs, and parents had to pay. As she pointed out, the company that won the bid stated that it was at the disposal of the schools to provide buses for children with disabilities for two years, during which the pilot program was implemented, and there were no major problems and significant benefits were realized. “All students were transported together in large buses. We don’t want the children to be transported in small buses but in large ones. The program was stopped, and it didn’t proceed. The Ministry of Education should tell us why it was stopped. For five years now, we have been saying that there should be legislation for inclusive education.”

Taking the floor, the President of the Cyprus Confederation of Organizations of the Disabled (CCOD), Christakis Nicolaides, noted that they have submitted a memorandum regarding the inequalities faced by children with disabilities in all areas. He emphasized that there are laws and regulations for mass transportation, both public and private, that must be accessible. “The specifications exist, and there are EU specifications. Refusing to accept that there is a problem and that there are ways to solve it will not help. From July until now, we have had 70 complaints. There was a case where a child was not granted a ramp to enter his home, and the Court ruled in favor of the child. There are complaints about the transportation of children; in Paphos, they left children with autism at school and did not take them on the excursion.”

The Response of the Ministry of Transportation

In response to what Mr. Groutidis reported, Mr. Andreas Nikiforou, the Head of the Directorate of Public Passenger Transport and Senior Officer of Public Transport at the Ministry of Transportation, emphasized that it was the first time he had heard about what Mr. Groutidis mentioned. He clarified that this was a school trip and not public transportation. He stated, “We are talking about a private company that has a contract with the school and the principal. Understanding that the vehicle was legal, it had passed the MOT (Motor Vehicle Inspection). The vehicle was suitable, but it did not have an extra seat for the second wheelchair.”

Mr. Nikiforou pointed out that during the contract negotiation, the school’s management should have requested a vehicle with a second seat or asked for a second vehicle. He also emphasized that it was the responsibility of the school’s management to document the needs. He further mentioned a meeting that took place at the Ministry of Transportation the previous week, during which it was decided to create a list of essential safety documents that companies must have for buses.

Statements from Educators and Parents

Taking the floor, Mr. Dimitris Taliadoros, the President of OELMEK (Secondary Education Teachers’ Federation), highlighted that requests for transportation services are made by the school’s management at the beginning of the school year, taking into account the needs of each unit. He noted that there are special buses for excursions. Regarding the responsibility of school administrations, Mr. Taliadoros pointed out that they do not have the specifications for vehicles; only the companies do, and they provide quotations.

“In the past, the police used to conduct inspections, but now the responsibility lies with the schools. What do the schools check? Whether the vehicles have permits, have passed inspections, and are safe.”

On her part, Ms. Myria Vasileiou, the President of POED (Pan-Cyprian Parents’ Association), suggested that at the beginning of the school year, contacts are made with bus companies to find the best solution and that the company is informed if there are children with disabilities. Regarding specifications and criteria, her response was emphatic.

“Our diplomas say ‘teacher,’ not ‘engineer’ or ‘police officer.’ It is not our responsibility to inspect vehicles; we do not have the knowledge.”

In his statement, Mr. Loizos Konstantinou, the President of the Federation of Parents of Secondary Education, noted that their position is firm. “The right to education is equal for all children, and the state should provide it.”

Regarding buses, Mr. Konstantinou emphasized the need to create a registry for school buses to ensure order. He also stressed the importance of creating the list immediately, so schools know what to request from the companies.

Source: Reporter

USA: Quadriplegic regains movement in hands thanks to Artificial Intelligence

A quadriplegic in the USA managed to regain some of the movements and sensations in his upper limbs through a new restoration method based on artificial intelligence.

Keith Thomas, who was confined to a wheelchair after an accident, has regained sensation and movement in his hand and arm after several years, thanks to Artificial Intelligence.

The man had broken his neck in an accident in the pool three years ago, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.

The surgery lasted for 15 hours and took place last March. Doctors implanted five microchips in his brain, and with the assistance of artificial intelligence, his brain successfully connected to his spinal cord and the rest of his body.

This unprecedented surgical intervention required Thomas to be awake for a part of the procedure, allowing him to regain the sensation in his thumb and index finger.

The success of the surgery has made him a true pioneer in paralysis treatment. His ability to move has significantly improved, offering hope for a better future to his loved ones. Moreover, this achievement holds promises for an estimated 100 million people worldwide who suffer from paralysis.

The team at Northwell Health, led by Chad Bouton from the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine, played a crucial role in Thomas’s recovery. Their work has paved the way for possibilities and further prospects in the field of paralysis treatment.

Source: NEWS BOMB

The deal is sealed: From September, the ‘Health’ Polyclinic joins the GHS.

Starting from September, the ‘Ygeia’ Polyclinic will join the GHS (General Health System) – How private Diagnostic and Therapeutic Centers (DTCs) will assist in the decongestion of public hospitals – Andreas Papakonstantinou elaborates on the plan being initiated by the GHS in the Off The Record Podcast.

The agreement for the integration of the ‘Ygeia’ Polyclinic into the GHS (General Health System) has been definitively sealed, and starting from September, beneficiaries of the System will have access to inpatient health care services and the First Aid Department of the private hospital.

Specifically, Andreas Papakonstantinou, the Director of the Health Insurance Organization (HIO), revealed in the Off The Record Podcast by Cyprus Times that HIO has reached an agreement with the ‘Ygeia’ Polyclinic. He also clarified that the signatures have not yet been formalized, but this is now a procedural matter.

Furthermore, he explained that based on the planning, the private hospital will commence providing its services from September 1st, or if there’s any delay, it will occur 15 days later, in mid-September.

Mr. Papakonstantinou also indicated that the First Aid Department of the ‘Ygeia’ Polyclinic will also be integrated into the GHS.

How Private TAEK (Emergency Admission Units) Will Help in Decongesting Public Hospitals

Moving forward, Mr. Papakonstantinou discussed the plan initiated by HIO to decongest the TAEK units of public hospitals, allowing for emergency cases to also be redirected to private hospitals.

“This is why we proceeded with the integration of ‘Ygeia’,” he explained, further adding that “Mediterranean Hospital is already operating within the GHS and offering First Aid services. We will also include Apollonion Hospital (its TAEK unit will join the System in September), Evangelismos in Paphos, and St. Raphael in Larnaca. A mechanism will be established where the patient can choose any TAEK unit.”

He also pointed out that each TAEK unit, due to its specific payment arrangement, will be required to maintain both beds and the medical team necessary to handle these cases. In cases where a TAEK unit cannot attend to a certain incident, it will be accountable to the Organization – as records are kept – and an instruction will be provided to refer the case to specific TAEK units. “There will be these safety networks,” emphasized Mr. Papakonstantinou.”

Source: Cyprus Times

Significant Achievement: They found a way to reprogram the bone marrow cells.

How did mRNA technology contribute to evolution. Which diseases could be addressed using this technique.

Scientists from the USA announced that they have developed a method to directly reprogram bone marrow cells within the body.

If this technique proves equally successful in clinical practice, it could potentially replace hematopoietic stem cell transplants in the future. These are performed on patients with hematological disorders (e.g., leukemia) after undergoing intensive chemotherapy.

Furthermore, it may also lead to the treatment of previously incurable diseases, such as hemoglobinopathies (e.g., sickle cell anemia).

The method is based on the direct delivery of mRNA into a patient’s bone marrow stem cells. This is achieved using a technique similar to the one developed for coronavirus vaccines.

Once the mRNA reaches the target cells, it corrects the genetic mutations responsible for the specific disorder. As a result, the bone marrow of the patient begins to produce healthy cells.

Scientists from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who developed the method, successfully applied it in experiments on animals and in cellular series in the laboratory.

They corrected a genetic mutation.

The new findings are being published in the scientific journal Science. As explained by the researchers, they tested their technique on the bone marrow of living mice and on hematopoietic stem cells from four patients with sickle cell disease.

In human samples, the method corrected the genetic mutation that causes a portion of the patients’ red blood cells to have a sickle shape. The normal shape of red blood cells is oval.

This discovery suggests that gene editing of bone marrow could be feasible without the usual process used today.

The typical procedure involves finding a compatible donor and obtaining hematopoietic cells from them. These cells are then transplanted into the patient, who must take medication for a significant period to prevent rejection by the body.

Practical Implications

The new findings could potentially revolutionize genetic therapies, stated Dr. Laura Breda, Head Researcher and Associate Professor of Hematology at CHOP.

For instance, they could lead to the treatment of both hematological and non-hematological disorders caused by specific genetic mutations, such as:

  • Hemoglobinopathies (e.g., sickle cell anemia, thalassemia)
  • Inherited anemias or thrombocytopenias
  • Immune deficiencies
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Various metabolic disorders
  • Muscular dystrophies

All of these conditions could potentially be addressed through a simple intravenous infusion of targeted gene therapies,” she said. However, she was quick to clarify that this won’t happen in the near future. Many more research efforts are needed before the method can be tested in humans, she emphasized.

Source: iatropedia

Strict Recommendations from the Directorate of Administration for Access of People with Disabilities to Clinics and Hospitals

The Ministry of Health should conduct regular and, in every case where a relevant complaint/report is submitted, on-site inspections,” emphasizes the Commissioner.

In recommendations addressed to the Ministry of Health and the EOPYY (National Organization for Healthcare Provision), the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights Protection, Maria Stylianou-Lottides, addressed the accessibility of individuals with disabilities to healthcare services and providers offered through the General Health System (GESY).

Specifically, the Ministry is urged, until the preparation of the relevant Regulations, to prepare, in consultation and collaboration with representative organizations of persons with disabilities, a list of criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications that facilities/infrastructures and equipment of private hospitals should meet, no later than the end of September 2023, and to submit it to the EOPYY.

In an announcement from the Commissioner’s Office, the following points are also mentioned:

Corresponding amendments should be directed within the legal framework that governs other healthcare professional facilities or service providers who are contracted and/or will be contracted with EOPYY, so that their fulfillment of accessibility criteria/requirements and specifications becomes mandatory.

In cases where there is no existing legal framework (e.g. diagnostic centers, rehabilitation centers, palliative care health centers, etc.), the training should be promptly promoted based on the timetables set out in the Ministry’s contracts with private entities to whom it has already assigned the preparation of this legal framework. However, any extension beyond the already specified timetables should not be accepted by the Ministry, if deemed abusive.

It is understood that in every case, until the modification or preparation of the relevant legal framework, the facilities and equipment of healthcare professionals or service providers should meet the criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications that will be included in the aforementioned List to be prepared by the Ministry.”

The Ministry of Health must also proceed promptly and within a predetermined timetable to prepare Regulations where they do not exist, concerning the licensing of healthcare service providers, including private medical practices, so that criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications closely related to obtaining an operating license can be established.

Until the preparation of the legal framework governing the licensing of healthcare service providers, including private medical practices, the facilities/infrastructures and their equipment must meet the criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications that will be included in the above-mentioned List prepared by the Ministry.

To the Health Insurance Organization (EOPYY):

After receiving the aforementioned List from the Ministry of Health, EOPYY should inform all contracted healthcare service providers that within a short period, possibly two to three months, a transitional period of up to twelve (maximum) months will begin, during which they must take the necessary and appropriate actions to ensure that their facilities/infrastructures and equipment meet the criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications included in the Ministry’s List, in order for their contracts to be renewed.

It is understood that the aforementioned transitional period can be extended by up to six months when necessary adjustments with the criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications are already underway or planned. Based on the aforementioned information provided to healthcare service providers:

When entering into new contracts with healthcare service providers, as defined in the General Healthcare System Law, as well as with private or public hospitals, EOPYY should require as a prerequisite that their services are provided in fully accessible facilities for persons with disabilities and that they have the necessary equipment to make the provided services accessible, based on the criteria/requirements and specifications to be determined in the above-mentioned List.”

In the event that the relevant healthcare services are not accessible to persons with disabilities and the provider does not take the necessary actions within a specified deadline as indicated by EOPYY to meet the minimum criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications of the List, EOPYY should not proceed with the formation of a contract.

For existing contracts, EOPYY should timely inform, at least three months before the contract’s expiration (depending on the content and terms of the existing contract), the contracted providers that, for the purpose of contract renewal, they must comply with the criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications to be determined in the above-mentioned List, as a condition/precondition for contract renewal and remaining contracted with EOPYY.

In this direction, a term should be included in all contracts between EOPYY and the providers stating that within the specified period, they must meet the criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications that will be determined in the above-mentioned List. In case of non-compliance, the contract will be terminated and not renewed.

To the Ministry of Health & EOPYY:

The Ministry of Health should conduct regular on-site inspections and audits of the facilities/infrastructures of healthcare service providers, whenever a relevant complaint is submitted, to assess whether they are accessible and meet the minimum criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications of the List.

Furthermore, when it is determined that a facility/infrastructure and its existing equipment are not accessible to persons with disabilities, the Ministry should promptly notify EOPYY, which in turn should inform the provider of the discrimination against individuals with disabilities due to inadequate accessibility to its services. The provider should be urged to make the necessary changes/modifications to ensure accessibility of the provided services.

In the event that a specific provider fails to comply within a specified period with the minimum criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications, EOPYY should suspend and/or terminate the contract for healthcare services.

It is understood that for the implementation of the above, there must be full coordination and communication between the Ministry of Health and EOPYY with the representative organizations of persons with disabilities. This includes defining the necessary and appropriate criteria/requirements and accessibility specifications to be determined and included in the List, as well as determining the process for conducting on-site inspections and audits.

Source: Kathimerini

Mount Everest: Deaf mountaineers conquer the world’s highest peak

Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger are a deaf couple who run a channel on YouTube. What makes this channel unique is the recording of their experiences of being deaf and climbing the highest peaks of mountains around the world, as reported by CNN.

Their passion for what they do made them the first deaf couple in the world to successfully climb Mount Everest. During their journey, something unexpected happened: they met the second deaf person to reach the summit of this mountain, Hawari Hashim from Malaysia, who achieved this feat on May 18th. Notably, the first person to accomplish this was the Japanese climber Satoshi Tamura in 2016.

ndeed, the three of them achieved this accomplishment a few years after the Nepal Supreme Court lifted the ban on climbing the highest mountain in the Himalayas. This decision led to prideful celebrations among the global Deaf community.

The chronicle of the ban

In 2017, Nepal announced that it would no longer issue climbing permits to individuals with disabilities, including deaf climbers. Some argued that this decision would create more work for the Sherpas, who assist climbers on their ascent.

This ban sparked reactions among all mountaineers with disabilities. Among them was Hari Budha Magar, born in Nepal, who lost both his legs when he stepped on a landmine while serving in Afghanistan. He was one of the pioneers who fought for the lifting of the ban. Eventually, the ban was lifted in 2018.

Magar successfully summited Mount Everest on May 19th, becoming the first double above-the-knee amputee to complete the ascent.

The experience of the couple Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger

The environmental conditions prevailing on Everest – strong winds, swirling snow, darkness – make communication difficult for anyone, whether they are deaf or not.

The couple uses the Big, a voice-to-text translation app, to facilitate communication with locals, guides, and other climbers. However, the signal at high altitude is very poor. Additionally, typing becomes challenging at 25,000 feet, as the extremely low temperatures require them to remove their gloves to use the touchscreen.

In the end, Unger and Lehmann decided to assume that no technology would work for them on Everest and started learning to communicate as much as possible without it. They collaborated with the Sherpas, agreeing to use certain visual cues and signals to be able to communicate. Ultimately, they were able to communicate without relying on the app.

“There were many different obstacles we had to overcome to reach Everest, so when we reached the summit, we felt like we defied the odds,” says Unger. “We were truly proud of ourselves,” she adds.

It is noted that near the summit, Lehmann’s mask filled with ice, and she started to panic. However, she managed to communicate with the Sherpa who was with them, and he quickly fixed the mask, bringing the group back on track.

Such examples prove that nothing in life is impossible.

Source: News 24/7

Unheard of but Cypriot – Vehicle with mobile cameras in disabled parking area (IMAGE).

https://www.instagram.com/p/CvNVSBQrupD/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

Unprecedented but Cypriot – Vehicle with mobile cameras in a parking space for people with disabilities (PHOTO). The photo, which was posted on social media by Mr. Dimitris Lambrianides, President of the Cyprus Paraplegic Organization, has been circulating on the internet in recent hours. As you can see in the following photo, the operator of the van with mobile cameras parked in a parking space designated for disabled individuals. Specifically, in his post, Mr. Lambrianides mentions: “This photo was sent to me today. If anyone knows the person who took it, please ask them to go to the nearest police station and make a complaint!”

Source: omega live

NGOs – Myths and Realities

The establishment of a legislative framework for institutionalized, regular dialogue between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the state, for a strong civil society in Cyprus, meaning a potent organized social action of groups or individuals for the common good, is the primary goal of the Civil Society Advocates Foundation, as stated by its president, Eleni Karayianni, to “Φ” newspaper. In her message stressing the need for dialogue and cooperation, Dr. Anastasia Michaelidou Kamenu, the head of the Department of Associations, Clubs, and SMEs at the Ministry of Interior, promptly expressed her willingness to comment on the views and positions of Civil Society Advocates as presented in a recent document titled “10 Myths and Realities about Non-Governmental Organizations” released by the Foundation.

The document was prepared within the framework of the European project “For a Strong Civil Society: Practicing Politics and Strengthening Skills for the Empowerment of Civil Society” in Cyprus. The project is funded by the Active Citizens Fund Cyprus program, which is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

It should be noted that the Civil Society Advocates group has been registered as a Foundation since 2018, in accordance with the relevant law of 2017 for Associations and Foundations. As emphasized by Ms. Eleni Karayianni, the group’s president, they aim to contribute to the empowerment of civil society organizations and the improvement of the framework in which they operate through their voluntary actions. The founding members of the group, along with President Eleni Karayianni, are Marina Vasilara as Vice President, Maria Tsiarta as Secretary, and Klairi Papazoglou as Treasurer.

Differences, mode of operation, and independence

As emphasized by Eleni Karayianni, non-governmental organizations, meaning the organized civil society, play a crucial role in a society, as they represent the voice of independent active citizens and engage in various fields, providing services, programs, and policy recommendations. However, there are many myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions about NGOs, some of which are addressed in this document, while also presenting their role and significance in a contemporary society.

Myth 1: There is no difference between the terms “non-governmental organization” (NGO), “charitable organization,” and “civil society.”

Reality: While there are some commonalities, these terms are not synonymous. There is a general impression that NGOs mean “Non-Profit Organizations” and that these organizations mainly consist of charitable organizations. However, the acronym NGO stands for “Non-Governmental Organization” in English and “Μη Κυβερνητική Οργάνωση” in Greek. NGOs are inherently non-profit and independent of government services and structures. Charitable organizations are NGOs that, due to their nature, are approved by the Ministry of Finance. Not all NGOs are charitable organizations. All NGOs are part of civil society (Κοινωνία των Πολιτών – ΚτΠ), a term that has now been established and refers to all forms of social action carried out by individuals or groups not connected to the government or governed by it. Often, politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens refer to “civil society” when they want to refer to “the general public” or even to voters, indicating that there is still a long way to go for a proper understanding of what civil society truly means and to use the term correctly in Cyprus.

Myth 2: All non-governmental organizations operate under the same regulations and regime.

Reality: NGOs have different legal forms in Cyprus. They can be Associations, based on their members, with at least 20 members and a five-member Board of Directors. They can be Foundations with a three-member Board of Directors but without members. They can be Unions/Federations, where their members are other legal entities, i.e., other NGOs. Finally, they can be Non-Profit Companies and Beneficiary Foundations. This translates into different modes of administration and decision-making, as well as different legal obligations.

Myth 3: Non-governmental organizations do the same work as the government, so why should they exist?

Reality: NGOs contribute to the well-being of society and strengthen pluralism and democracy, but they never replace the government. Many NGOs provide services to citizens that are not adequately offered by public services, such as social benefits, healthcare, and specialized support for specific groups (e.g., people with disabilities). NGOs are independent entities that often pressure the government to improve the well-being of society while offering specialized services and expertise. They also play a significant role in important social and political issues, where an independent voice is necessary, such as human rights, poverty reduction, gender equality, environmental protection, as well as cultural and artistic matters. In every modern state, efforts are made to empower the independent voice and action of NGOs, and there is often dialogue and close collaboration between the state and these organizations in shaping policies. In Cyprus, there is still progress to be made in this area.

Myth 4: Non-governmental organizations should rely on volunteering and not employ people.

Reality: Although most NGOs in Cyprus rely solely on volunteers, it is commonly accepted that employing staff enhances an organization’s ability to achieve its long-term goals. Employing people does not mean that an organization ceases to be non-profit. Furthermore, when an organization employs staff, it has the flexibility to offer even more specialized services to the public, contributing to a more effective implementation of its goals.

Financial oversight, funding, and transparency

Myth 5: Non-governmental organizations make significant profits, and there is no financial oversight.

Reality: By law, NGOs are entitled to have a surplus in their accounts, which, however, should be used solely for their purposes. What they are not allowed to do, as it would result in losing their non-profit status, is to distribute profits to their members or Board of Directors. All registered NGOs have a legal obligation to submit annual reports, including their financial accounts. Those who fail to meet these obligations can be removed from the relevant registers.

Myth 6: Non-governmental organizations secure significant funding from Cyprus and abroad.

Reality: The majority of NGOs rely heavily on volunteerism and contributions. Only a small number of organizations are able to obtain and utilize funding, either from the Republic of Cyprus or from highly competitive funding programs to support their actions. In the case of funded NGOs, their financials are strictly monitored to ensure the funds are used for the intended purposes. Moreover, all NGOs are now required by law to submit annual financial reports and, in many cases, audited accounts. The government and international organizations stress the need for transparency and accountability both in the operation of NGOs and the use of their financial resources.

Myth 7: Non-governmental organizations operate unchecked, and their role in Cyprus is suspicious.

Reality: NGOs often engage in political pressure and criticism on various issues, which can make them targets on different levels. However, the legal framework ensures sufficient transparency and control. Reports from Moneyval in 2019 and 2022 on NGOs in Cyprus indicated that the government’s control measures may discourage or hinder NGOs, as all organizations are treated as “high risk.” These reports recommend the establishment of proportional and objective risk criteria, along with close cooperation between organizations and the government to develop good practices. Our position is that the government’s practices may pose a risk of stifling NGOs and violating their rights.

Myth 8: Foreign governments and organizations fund NGOs to promote their own interests.

Reality: NGOs seek funding from both local and international sources for their programs. Funding is provided based on competitive criteria, and the financial accounts of NGOs receiving funds are submitted annually to the relevant authorities, providing information about their objectives, funding sources, and amounts. There is no evidence to support the claim that NGOs use their funds for purposes other than their intended activities.

Myth 9: Many NGOs are funded by organizations that also finance terrorism and/or launder “dirty” money.

Reality: To address this concern, both foreign and Cypriot governments have increased their scrutiny of NGOs. International organizations stress that control measures must be proportionate to the type of activities each organization conducts. The latest Moneyval reports for NGOs in Cyprus showed that the government’s control measures might discourage or hinder NGOs, as they are all treated as “high risk.” The reports recommend establishing proportional and objective risk criteria, as well as close cooperation between organizations and the government to develop good practices. Our position is that the government’s practices may pose a risk of stifling NGOs and violating their rights.

Myth 10: There are too many NGOs in Cyprus compared to our population.

Reality: The operation of NGOs is protected by the human right to associate, recognizing their contribution to the common good. Internationally, there are no criteria determining the number of NGOs in a country relative to its population. Furthermore, this right is protected by Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which Cyprus has ratified), as well as other international agreements and conventions that Cyprus has ratified.

Friendly environment and non-profit organizations

“I agree with what has been mentioned in the ‘Myths 9 and 10’ by the Civil Society Advocates Foundation,” states Dr. Anastasia Michaelidou Kamenu, Director of Associations, Foundations, and SMEs at the Ministry of Interior, in her note to ‘F’ newspaper. Regarding ‘Myth 1,’ she emphasizes the following: “I would start by saying that I consider the term ‘non-profit’ more representative of these organizations since their core existence is based on ‘not seeking financial gain.’ I do not agree with those who claim that NGOs can engage heavily in profit-seeking activities to support their purposes. Revenues should come from auxiliary activities; otherwise, NGOs would turn into companies that merely express their social programs through activities known as ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).’ On the contrary, unlike companies that aim for profits for their shareholders/owners but also demonstrate sensitivity through CSR programs, NGOs allocate their resources and efforts to non-profit but beneficial activities and may occasionally support their work with some income-generating activities. The purposes of non-profit organizations can be philanthropic, activist, environmental, social, and other beneficial goals.”

Regarding ‘Myth 2,’ she highlights that “there are indeed different types of non-profit organizations.” Regarding ‘Myth 3,’ she notes: “Non-profit organizations often assist the actions of the state. Other times NGOs act as the voice that discusses with government bodies or authorities, or they challenge certain decisions. In one way or another, they are an essential part of society and have a crucial role to play. Therefore, the state, in general, and the government should facilitate their action, allowing them to operate in a friendly environment.” Regarding ‘Myth 4,’ she underlines that “going back to the concept of ‘non-profit,’ NGOs indeed heavily rely on the action of volunteers. However, they can also employ staff, provided that this personnel performs beneficial activities based on the organization’s goals. In the legislation, Foundations are prohibited from paying salaries to their Board members. Therefore, we have purely voluntary action in this case. The same does not apply to Associations, although this is desirable. Generally, when the Ministry recognizes that the salary expense is a significant part of an NGO’s expenditures, it may consider that there is a business entity beneath the NGO’s facade. This is not absolute, but an indication.”

The very important role of NGOs

Regarding ‘Myth 5,’ she states that “a non-profit organization cannot have a surplus for several years. This could indicate that something may not be going well and that we might be talking about ‘profit-seeking.’ Logically, a non-profit organization does not want to have a surplus, as it could immediately use it to expand its beneficial actions. There are, of course, cases where savings help build a project over a few years, such as a medical center. Everything is related to the goals.”

Regarding ‘Myth 6,’ she notes that “many government departments provide grants to NGOs, and NGOs certainly rely on the contributions of their volunteers and donors. As the Ministry of Interior, we are responsible for the licensing of fundraising events. Fundraising events are one way for NGOs to collect funds to support their specific purposes.” Regarding ‘Myth 7,’ she observes that “there are NGOs worldwide that play a very significant role, and there are NGOs that use the legal environment offered to them to engage in illegal or criminal activities. We must consider this normal and everyone should operate based on this reality. Controls are, therefore, necessary. “Finally, commenting on ‘Myth 8,’ she states that “funding NGOs through European programs is a very healthy way of functioning. On the other hand, the movement of capital abroad should take place through the banking system of the countries of origin and destination of the money. Not only NGOs can be used as vehicles for financing terrorism and money laundering, but also companies, trusts, etc. That is why NGOs, as legal entities, have obligations to maintain a register of their actual beneficiaries, which, in this case, are the members of the Board of Directors, but also significant donors or beneficiaries.”

Source: Philenews