KATHMANDU: Brandur Karlsson, a social entrepreneur from Iceland, has been paralysed from the neck down for ten years. The 36-year-old arrived in Kathmandu two days ago to advocate for equality and civil rights of people with disabilities.
At the age of 26, he contracted a brainstem lesion through an unexplained infection, rendering him a quadriplegic. “But, my physical disability has never stopped me from relentlessly advocating for the rights of people with disabilities as well as becoming a social entrepreneur,” he said.
“When I was 14, I read a book – Escape From Kathmandu – authored by American novelist Kim Stanley Robinson,” he said, adding, “The fantasy fiction inspired me a lot to be in Nepal as early as possible.” The dream finally came true after 22 years, he quipped.
Recounting that the trip from Iceland to Nepal had been wonderful torture for him, Karlsson said that he, however, experienced a lot of pain during the flights but it was all totally worth it. “I love the feeling of being in a different culture and environment.”
While being in Nepal till mid-April, the quadriplegic mouth-painter also plans to paint the Himalayas with his mouth. Besides, he will also exercise with a master of ancient medical practices going through intense alternative physical therapy in Kathmandu to see if that improves his health.
“I know I will be faced with some of the most difficult conditions of accessibility for disabled people I have ever met but I am not going to let that stop me and I will test how far I can go here in this wheelchair.”
Assisted by a six-member crew, the founder of Frumbjörgthe social innovation centre in Iceland also plans to interact with the Nepali people living with disabilities. “I will also mentor Nepali social entrepreneurs and set up collaboration with Nepal’s health care system and help fellow handicapped people realise their full potential,” he shared.
Karlsson has a plan to visit schools in Kathmandu to talk to the students how it is being a disabled man in Iceland and how he has fought for the rights of disabled people there.
As Nepal and Iceland have many things in common, Karlsson said he wanted to be a bridge between the two mountainous countries to fulfil the wish of Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland. “The President has always inspired me to be an agent of social change,” he said. Saying that technologies play a key role in making many things accessible to all including the persons with disabilities, Nepal and Iceland could collaborate to explore opportunities for the differently-abled persons, he added.
As part of his journey, he will support a part of the fund collected for his trip through non-physical perks to the Hospital and Rehabilitation for Disabled Children in Banepa.
According to his team members, Karlsson promoted the use of remote-visual devices to enjoy nature, founded the drone association in Iceland, and helped to launch the Flying Chair project. He has also been mouth-painting Icelandic and imaginary sci-fi landscapes since 2010. “He is committed to working toward transforming the lives of people with disabilities.”
Karlsson has also successfully conducted a paragliding flight in 2014. Frumbjörg, an innovation centre, founded by Karlsson in Reykjavík in 2016, offers a home to those working on developing next generation assistive and welfare-oriented technologies.