Barclayville, Grand Kru – Energized by funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which was channeled through the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), Liberia’s National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD) is on the march, divided into teams, to all parts of the country.
They are calling attention of other Liberians, as well as members of the global community, to what they describe as “grave omission” in the Constitution of Liberia and the National Legislature-endorsed would-be changes in the nation’s organic law. And they want other empathetic Liberians to join them in pressing the government to fill-in this human-right gap.
“Nothing is in the Liberian Constitution for disabled persons, and none of the propositions by our lawmakers talks about the disabled people,” Crutches-mobile Naomi B. Harris, President of the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD), said to a gathering of disabled persons in Filorken, a Town in Barclayville of Grand Kru County, on April 12, 2017.
The new NUOD leader, elected President at the Union’s General Assembly/Elections on March 18, 2017, and the Union’s first female leader, had made this comment at a Workshop in the County’s capital city, Barclayville, five hours earlier. All the County’s top officials (Superintendent, Development Superintendent and City Mayor) were represented; the Independent National Commission for Human Rights’ Grand Kru County’s Coordinator, Mr. Stanley W. Konwroh, was personally present.
During the Workshop, the NUOD chief crusader did the following: spoke about the 25 propositions (continuously emphasizing the absence of “persons with disabilities”, as it is in the current Liberia Constitution); demonstrated, on a Flipchart, voting in the referendum on tenure reduction of government officials; expounded on the United Nations Convention for the rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPWDs); and called for Action Points, especially for disabled persons, for the new Constitution.
The 12th of the propositions talked about persons with disabilities.
“But none of the seven propositions later picked out by the House of Representatives mentions anything about disabled persons,” Ms. Harris told the participants.
Ms. Harris and her team from Monrovia are on a mission tagged “sensitization awareness and advocacy leading to the holding of the national referendum amongst people living with disabilities (PWDs)”.
“This program was meant for 2016, to cover Bong, Nimba, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh and Grand Kru Counties, but a change in UNDP Program Office pushed sensitization in Grand Gedeh and Grand Kru Counties to 2017,” Ms. Harris revealed.
In Grand Kru County, Ms. Harris took the message to five Towns—Big Suehn, Filorken, Topoh Town, Picnic-Cess and Sector. In each of the Towns, she asked members of her entourage to hoist NUOD’s banner with information about her mission and names of international organizations (USAID and UNDP) as enablers of her mission.
She entered Topoh Town and Sector Town during nighttime (after 6)—only to meet target of delivering the message in the Town.
She hired the service of Emmanuel S. Joeploh to translate her English words for townspeople who could speak and understand only their native dialect (Kru or Grebo). At some points, a resident of the Town offered to do the translation.
In each of these Towns, she ignored townspeople staring at her ‘strange right leg legs’ (the only disabled part on her body), when she was moving with her pair of crutches, her concern being only to deliver her human rights-related message to her ‘family members’ living in this place.
“Town Chief, I’m here to tell you to tell your people to stop keeping people outside of school, stop keeping people in the back yard, or teasing them because of their disabilities,” she said to the traditional leader of Big Suehn, Mr. Juwleh Wilson Flennieh.
“To my family,” she said to the disabled persons gathered, “I’m here to tell you that the government has schools for any disabled person who wants to learn.”
In Picnic-Cess, a fishing Town, under Mr. Dortu Togba as Paramount Chief, the NUOD President made a brief tour in the center of the Town, defying the presence of tough outgrown grass covering main roads, creating a barricade to her crutches and legs.
During her speech, she chided some non-disabled persons who asked their colleagues (non-disabled persons) to feign disability to be given money they though NUOD President had brought to share.
“We didn’t bring money to divide to anybody in Picnic-Cess; we only came to speak about human rights, the referendum, and how villagers should vote for disability issues during the referendum to get their response,” Madam Harris said to the opportunists.
In each of the Towns, she was confronted by relatives and friends who had brought the wrong persons as ‘disabled people’—old people with deep cuts (sores) on their legs or hunched and walking with sticks due to hard labor on farms or from another activity.
The government is listening to NUOD advocacy. But the group, founded on the 29th of October, 1995, wants the government to take action—write their rights into the Country’s common law book—besides listening.
Report by Samuel G. Dweh/freelance journalist