Bengaluru, December 2, 2016: 50 VEERS (Persons with Disability) walked several kilometers to mark the World Disability Day celebrations in Bengaluru. The walkathon was led by Boniface Prabhu, Padam Shri awardee and quadriplegic athlete, who is also India’s first ever Para World Championship medal winner. Boniface and the Thums Up VEER Kashmir to Kanyakumari expedition team have taken a pitstop at Bengaluru, enroute to covering the 3,500 KM road drive that seeks to create awareness and sensitize people to the cause of PWDs.

This walkathon was organized by Chesire Homes jointly with the American India Foundation and Thums Up.

The march started opposite the Manipal Hospital.

Boniface Prabhu, Cheshire Homes and American India Foundation (AIF), took the opportunity to teach the attendees the A, B, C of sign language. Team Thums Up and Boniface along with members of civil society have been campaigning to mainstream sign language and also make it an official Indian language. The expedition team is also using this road journey to reach out to and teach atleast 10,000 people, the basics of sign language.

The welcome ceremony and the walkathon was attended by Prasanna Bora, Zonal Vice President, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd and Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd) from Cheshire Homes and AIF. These dignitaries later flagged off Boniface Prabhu for the next leg of the expedition, which will now halt at Chennai.

While addressing the NGO partners and VEERs on the eve of ‘World Disability Day’, Boniface spoke to them about being inclusive and how mainstreaming PWDs will benefit the country. He said that as per the 2011 census, there are 26.8 million PWDs in India and only 3% of them are gainfully employed. This is unlike some developed countries where the employment rate of PWDs is 30% to 50%. The World Bank estimates that by excluding PWDs from the mainstream leads an economy loses 3%-7% of GDP realization. Thums Up VEER K2K seeks to play a role in integrating PWDs into the mainstream.

Speaking at event, Prasanna Bora, Zonal Vice President, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt ltd, said, “Thums Up along with partners American India Foundation and Being Human, already run the VEER campaign, which trains PWDs to make them employable. We are now focusing on the softer aspects that help integrate PWDs into the mainstream, guided by govt’s Accessible India campaign. Thums Up believes that everyone has the potential within, to achieve everything they deserve and this is best articulated by its tagline – Main Hoon Toofani. I look forward to working with Boniface and reviewing the outcomes of this expedition.”

Speaking on the occasion, Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd), Cheshire Homes said, “Physical barriers, stigmas, stereotypes and discrimination constantly restrain our country’s large population of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). The social attitude associated with disability and the lack of access to opportunities distances differently-abled individuals from being independent in our country. To advance their rights, it is imperative that we, as a society, share our compassion and solidarity to promote the social integration of disabled people into mainstream society. This mission by Thums Up and Boniface Prabhu is creating an awareness and sensitizing people on the issues of disabilities in our country. We are extremely happy to be associated with this noble cause and would like to urge people to take a pledge against discrimination on the grounds of disability.”

The Thums Up VEER Kashmir to Kanyakumari (K2K) road expedition, was flagged off on November 9, from Jammu and KashmirDuring the week, the expedition has stopped at Amritsar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Ajmer, Udaipur, Pune and Hyderabad before reaching Bangalore. The expedition has covered 2,500 KMs over 20 days, stopping at several places to attend events, meetings and sign language training classes, all aimed towards an Accessible India. Over the week, Boniface will further participate in more than 10 events hosted and facilitated by India’s largest selling soft drink brand – Thums Up jointly with the American India Foundation, a leading NGO.

Thums Up VEER K2K expedition aims to:

  1. Promote and spread the use of sign language in India
  2. Understand the aims and aspirations of the differently-abled with a view to influence public policy which is beneficial for them
  3. Create a platform for exchange of ideas and best practices between PWDs
  4. And motivate and inspire the specially abled to unleash the potential within them

Traversing the longitudinal plane of India, crisscrossing 14 cities, Boniface is aiming to finish the journey in about 30 days involving over 200 hours of driving time. The expedition is also being supported by Being Human Foundation, Times Now, Indian Oil, Hindustan Coca-Cola and several others.

About Thums Up VEER program

Thums Up along with Being Human and American India Foundation launched VEER, a Campaign focused on unleashing the potential of the differently abled people in our country. Campaign VEER aims to address challenges such as inclusive education and employment, skill training and development, and advocating for disabled-friendly technology. With the support of its partners, the campaign is working at imparting vocational training to these individuals and ascertains their requirements so that they can be made job-ready. Hans Foundation has joined hands of the campaign a strategic partner.

About Coca-Cola and Citizenship

The Coca-Cola Company has always placed high value on good citizenship. At the heart of business is a mission statement called the Coca-Cola Promise — “The Coca-Cola Company exists to benefit and refresh everyone that it touches.” This basic proposition means that the company’s business should refresh the markets, protect, preserve and enhance the environment and strengthen the community. Coca-Cola India provides extensive support for community programs across the country, with a focus on education, health and water conservation. For further information on Company’s India operations and its products, please visit www.coca-colaindia.com

About PLAN INDIA:

Plan India, a member of Plan International Federation, is a nationally registered independent child development organization committed to creating a lasting impact in the lives of vulnerable and excluded children, their families and communities.

For over 35 years, Plan India and its partners have improved the lives of millions of children by providing them access to protection, basic education, proper healthcare, a healthy environment, livelihood opportunities and participation in decisions which affect their lives.

Learn more at www.planindia.org.

About AIF

The American India Foundation is committed to catalyzing social and economic change in India and building a lasting bridge between the United States and India through high-impact interventions in education, livelihoods, public health, and leadership development, with a particular emphasis on empowering girls and women to achieve gender equity. Working closely with local communities, AIF partners with NGOs to develop and test innovative solutions and with governments to create and scale sustainable impact. Founded in 2001 at the initiative of President Bill Clinton following a suggestion from Prime Minister Vajpayee, AIF has impacted the lives of 2.5 million of India’s poor and aims to reach 5 million by 2018-19.  Learn more at www.AIF.org

About Being Human – The Salman Khan Foundation

Being Human – The Salman Khan Foundation is a registered charitable trust set up in 2007. It works in the areas of education and healthcare for the underprivileged. www.beinghumanonline.com