Remembering passionate disability rights advocate Peter Coleridge

All of us at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) were extremely sad to learn of the death of MAP Trustee and passionate disability rights advocate, Peter Coleridge. The family held a memorial for him at his home in Wales on Saturday 27 July 2019.

Peter’s interest in Palestine and the wider Middle East began very early on. He was a volunteer teacher at the Lutheran Boys’ Secondary School in Beit Jala from 1963-64, as a one-year placement from university, and became fluent in Palestinian Arabic. He went on to teach in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Lebanon before joining Oxfam to run the relief and development programmes in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon. His interest in people with disabilities started in the Salt refugee camp in Jordan, where the mothers ran the habilitation centre themselves under Brother Andrew’s friendly eye and for the first time dared to bring their children into the open. Peter’s responsibilities in Oxfam expanded in the years from 1981 to 1994 to include first Egypt, Yemen and Iraq and later the Horn of Africa.

He became increasingly passionate about how humanitarian service providers can promote and protect disability rights, and wrote a book ‘Disability, Liberation and Development' which has proved profoundly influential. He proposed that a social model in which people with disabilities play a full part in development decision making, is not only a realistic and achievable goal, but provides the best way to extend opportunities and a decent life to as many people as possible.

After he left Oxfam, Peter continued to promote this model, working as an independent development consultant specialising in disability rights. This work took him to the Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

“He was a man of passionate interests and great integrity,” said friend and MAP Trustee Jean Bowyer, “and lived an astonishingly varied and sometimes dangerous life. His great contribution to justice for those with disability benefitted so many people, and of course MAP in particular. I feel enormously grateful to have known him.”

In 1988, whilst working in Ein el Helweh camp in Lebanon, Peter was kidnapped and held captive for six days by one of the most dangerous militias. His release unharmed was probably due in great measure to the many Palestinian colleagues who interceded and spoke up for him and his work. 

Peter’s knowledge and pursuit of the rights of people with disabilities empowered many, and he will be sorely missed by everyone at MAP:

“I was very privileged too to know him and to work with him closely during his visits to our disability projects. I'm sure that many of the people with disabilities he met in Gaza will continue to remember him lifelong for his valuable discussions and contribution to their project.” -Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Director of Programmes in Gaza

“It is heart-breaking and very sad news, he touched me with his great personality; Peter’s death is a great loss for all humanity. I hope his soul rests in peace.” -Amal Zaqout, MAP’s Community Programme Officer in Gaza

“Peter was a hugely committed to the Palestinian cause, incredibly compassionate and a wonderfully active member of MAP’s Board. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to learn from the depth of his knowledge, skills and experience and he was a complete joy to spend time with. It was fascinating to hear about his past adventures - which really were extraordinary. We are hugely appreciative of his unflagging commitment to MAP, especially during his illness. He was a truly generous spirit. It was an absolute privilege to know and work with him.” -Aimee Shalan, MAP’s Chief Executive

“This is sad news. Personally, I feel deeply sad. I met you [Peter] a few times, but I learned a lot from you. I loved your Arabic language and your accent, which you used to communicate with me. Even though your visits to Gaza are too short, but you always showed your passion to share all the knowledge and information that you have with us. I feel I gained a lot from you. I feel I lost a great deal. This loss is not only to me but to all those with a disability and the human rights movement around the world. I hope we will meet you in Paradise.” -Haitham Al Saqqa, MAP’s Programme Assistant in Gaza

Our thoughts are with Peter’s family and friends at this very sad time.