This article is a brief review of society’s perception and treatment of an integral (human) part of the Liberian society in the year 2016—a year that will be gone into history book four days from today (December 27) when this write-up was sent to local print media (newspapers) for publication.
Some are crutches-mobile, or move on crutches, like me. Some crawl, like toddlers, due to paralysis of both legs. Some are wheelchair-mobile or move on wheelchairs. Some find their way with guide of a stick (metal or wooden) called ‘cane’.
These are the visually impaired, or blind, persons. Hundreds of other move or in abnormal manners—different from the way God designed their physical body parts to carry them forward or backward.
These people are medically referred to ‘disabled’.
In Liberia, these people form more than sixteen percent of the total of four million-plus population, according to official report from the Liberia Institute of Geo-Information Services (LISGIS).
You see them everywhere—in your neighborhood, in your community, or on the street. Most members of the ‘street group’, in most cases, are either begging for alms from the ‘abled bodied’ or ‘sightly intact’ members of the society.
You’ll find some disabled persons in public buildings to be considered for a job vacancy advertised, or to beg for alms after they were denied a job on their physical condition.
Much part of the ‘able-bodied’ community doesn’t treat these ‘disabled people’ like fellow human beings: they refuse to allow them into a Taxi or bus, or refuse to assist them (visually impaired) cross a street, or refuse to stop their cars for them on a public road, or refuse to allow them into public service arena on the perception that they (disabled persons) “won’t perform, due to disabilities.” Such perception is from a lack of empathy (feeling with another person on his/her pains or discomforts)
Disabilities are not the makings of those carrying them. I, for example, wasn’t born disabled (left leg paralyzed), but Polio) struck at the age of 2, leaving its mark to be with me beyond my 40th year.
And what cause physical deformities know no particular clan or social group in any nation. Which means the person born with body parts functioning today, may develop dysfunctional hands, legs, or eyes tomorrow.
The perception of members of the ‘complete-bodied’ community against the ‘disabled’ people is largely responsible for the inhumane treatment meted against us. Some think of us of (any) disabled person as a “witch” (if you are a female) or a “wizard” (if you are a male).
Another view (perception) is that the disabled person is a “cursed being” by God or by the person’s parent. On such perception, we are dehumanized in some quarters (of the ‘complete body’ community). And, in some places, we are stoned.
In spite of the hatred against the disabled community by most people in Liberia, there are some persons who’ve put themselves in our shoes (empathy) of humiliation.
They, organized into association, showed their ‘human feeling’ by supporting our sensitization or educational program in 2016. These humanitarian gestures came in 2015—even beyond this period—but I thought of focusing on only 2016 due to space scarcity problem in a newspaper for this article.
I wish to refer to all as “The Good Samaritans”. (The “Good Samaritan” is a Biblical persona of empathy, who met a flogged, wounded and weak man on the way, felt his physical and emotional wounds, took him to a medical center, and paid for the wounded man’s treatment).
These “Good Samaritans” did similar thing to a “financially wounded” National Union of Organization for the Disabled (NUOD)—the group I work with. NUOD, founded on October 29, 1995, is Liberia’s umbrella advocacy NGO seeking equality and social justice for all persons with disabilities in the country.
The first on the ‘Good Samaritan’ list was the Government of Liberia, through the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), for giving NUOD subsidies to enable NUOD to implement some of her programs.
The second on the “Good Samaritan” list is the National Lottery Authority (NLA). The NLA Family provided several of NUOD’s programs, two of which are the celebration of the World White Cane Day and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Recently, during the Christian celebration, the NLA gave dry foods to NUOD families.
The United Nations Development Project (UNDP) took the second position on the list. The UNDP has rushed to the rescue of NUOD several times in 2016.
Three of its salvation gestures include the following: sponsorship of NUOD’s National Referendum sensitization in five of Liberia’s 15 counties—Bong, Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, and River Cesss; sponsorship of NUOD’s Writing of the Shadow Report to the United Nations with reference to the Government of Liberia’s implementation of the United Nations Conventions on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs); and sponsorship of NUOD’s training of visually impaired persons in 2017 on the use of the Tactile Ballot to enable visually impaired participate in their nation’s House of Representatives and Presidential election that same year.
The third on the list of “Good Samaritans” for NUOD is Handicap International (HI). The HI sponsored NUOD’s participation in the Inclusive Education (IP) project organized by the Ministry of Education of Liberia. Twenty five (25) students with disabilities benefitted from the training. The HI did several things for NUOD, but which cannot be mentioned here due to space.
The fourth “Good Samaritan” is Sight Savers — an international body of humanitarians who undertake eye care programs around the world and pay for the cost of surgery or operations on the eye.
In Liberia, Sight Savers sponsored the 2016’s and 2017’s anniversaries of the White Cane Day organized by NUOD in collaboration with the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), a agency of the Government.
The White Cane Day is a global event that high lights the plight of visually impaired persons, and to advise on how members of the ‘able-bodied’ section of the general society can treat them with empathy. The White Cane Day is celebrated the 15th of October.
The Sight Savers also sponsored NUOD planning and holding of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which holds from the 1st to the 3rd of December of each year.
The Carter Center, the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Protection (MGCSP), and the AIFO (an Italian organization) each supported NUOD in 2016. The first supported the ‘mental health’ segment of general operations; the second supported our ‘social protection’ program; the third (AIFO) supported our ‘rehabilitation’ program.
Even though the UNDP and other disabled persons-friendly organizations (some mentioned earlier) have come to the financial rescue of NUOD in the year 2016, yet there were financial hindrances to completion of many earmarked projects. One of these projects is a loan scheme for disabled persons struggling to grow their smaller businesses to bigger ones.
One of the requests my leadership of NUOD received from many small-business disabled persons was to help them get a shop to take their wares (foods, wears, drinks, etc.) from their current road-side selling points that are often raided by City Police and destructive climate.
It is at this juncture I, with other members of NUOD, am appealing to private individual humanitarians, Government’s Agencies (like the National Social Security & Welfare Corporation) and Liberia’s international development partners (like the People’s Republic of China) to come to the rescue of NUOD.
The UNDP and other development partners (mentioned earlier) had wished to solve all the financial problems of NUOD, but were handicapped at certain point due to a mountain-height of requests (proposals) from national groupings on their desks—the same time NUOD’s begging bowl was there.
I wish everybody a prosperous New Year (2018)