MONROVIA – A citizen of Britain, Ellie Cole, of the University College—London, is carrying out research on Liberian disabled people battling Coronavirus (COVID-19)
She arrived into the West African Country on the 28th of October, 2022.
During her deliberation at Bella Casa on the 16th December she spoke about three thematic areas: Health, Restriction, and Transportation. ^you might want to change this a bit as you haven’t introduced the exhibition yet.
By Samuel G. Dweh, Freelance Journalist, +231-886618906/+231-776583266
On health, the Researcher and her hosts looked at health-related needs: access and availability of services, as well as negative attitudes of health workers. Much of their focus was on fear of stigma. inability to access healthcare, and psychosocial issues.
“Before coming to your Country, I got information from here, which indicated that psychological disabilities issue heightened through lack of medication, fear of going to clinics, attitudes of health workers,” the Briton told her guests at the Bella Casa Hotel.
“The impact of covid is causing other health problems – malaria. Example, one female with disabilities felt that she could not go to the hospital because people would think she had Covid,” she gave another example.
During experience-sharing many of the disabled Liberians talked about their great fear of Covid, as, some added, was due to their increased vulnerability to the virus.
“Experience of Ebola was a triggering event, particularly for psychosocial issues with persons with disabilities. But many felt equipped after Ebola the experience. They knew what to do and how to properly combat the disease,” she said during the interview by this writer.
Restrictions, difficult for all Liberians, but particularly for these people,” the British Researcher said further during the interview.
On Social Distancing (Government-mandated eight-foot distance between two persons in a public area), some of the visually impaired (blind) participants of the interactive sessions at NUOD told the Briton about their pains during the peak of the Covid-19 hit against Liberia. They lamented their not having the eyes to “see” whether they were in the Government-mandated distance, while some decried sighted persons’ refusal to keep the visually impaired persons in the radius.
“Before coming to your Country, some persons had told me, the greater risk being encountered by some caregivers doing their responsibilities before 3pm. Some persons told me, people with hearing impairments were beaten during curfew time as they had not received information about the curfew.
For her main topic for the Research, Food, and Food Security, the Briton said, she had been informed (prior to her coming to Liberia) that many disabled families did receive the Government’s food supplies, named “Stimulus Package”.
“I had been informed NUOD had put an SOS appeal on the radio and supplies arrived to support their members. Related to this is livelihoods.
During the Liberians’ inputs in the discussion, participants talked about impacts of the Covid-19 on the disabled people’s community: loss of jobs, having to hustle and begging for donations to feed their family.
On the subtopic, Transport and movement, the many persons in the body of disabled persons talked about the huge challenge for disabled people, especially the visually impaired persons. Some of the problems recalled were taxi drivers’ refusal to pick up disabled persons who had who waved for a moving taxi to stop for them.
All the disabled participants lamented on majority of moving vehicles operators’ refusal to stop for blind people to cross the road during their food-search tours.
People with disabilities appealed to the Government and private caregivers to practically show respect to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
“My research in Liberia is titled “Exploring the comparative experience of people with disabilities of the COVID-19 and Ebola emergency health responses”, focusing exclusively Liberia’s disabled community’s experience during the Corona Virus and Ebola outbreaks in the Country,” Researcher Ellie Cole said to this writer during an exclusive interview. “Part of my research is a photovoice. photovoice is a form of participatory research and gives people cameras to take photos of their experience and as a group discuss the images and what it means to them. The photovoice project culminated in a photo exhibition, which was at Bella Casa Hotel on Friday, 16th of December.
Each participant selected one photo from all of the photos taken over the entire project and wrote a caption explaining the photo and sharing their experience.
“The exhibition showcased the talent of the participants, but also their experiences, particularly around the Covid pandemic.
“The exhibition was a great success and over 70 people came. I am delighted with how well it all went,” she said
She added, “photovoice is a really powerful way for people to have their voices heard and people with disabilities in Liberia their voices often go unheard and their opinions are not considered. I hope that the exhibition went some way to change that.”
This writer’s interview with the British Researcher was at the Head Office of the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD) on 9th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia, December 19, 2022. “I am working through NUOD as my Liberian organizational partner on this project,” she added.
The Briton said her research focuses much on COVID-related “restriction” Government placed on Liberians with disabilities to prevent spread of the virus —like done to other citizens, as well as foreigners, with no physical disability.
“Visually impaired persons, as well as other disabled persons living with disabilities, are the worst hit by COVID-19, worsened by Government- imposed movement-restriction aimed at stopping spread of the virus,” Madam Cole said.
She said the research is part of her Ph.D obtaining project. “I’m on my Ph.D degree at the University College London. My research was funded by a research-funding Institution, named Economic and Social Research Control, ESRC. I expressed, through writing, my interest of doing the research in Liberia; They agreed, provided the research funding, so I am in this Country,” she said.
Her Liberian partner on this project is Jamesetta Wahblo Seton, a Lecturer at the University of Liberia, the Briton disclosed during the interview by this writer.
“Madam Seton helped to facilitate the photovoice sessions and assists me on interviews of the disabled persons,” she told this writer.
On the 16th of December, she held an interactive session with some members of the Disability Community at the Bella Casa Hotel, Sinkor, Monrovia.
“I was overwhelmed by the participants’ stories about how they survived during the peak of the COVID-19’s attack against the Liberian populace,” Researcher Cole said to me during interview after the interactive session.
Another part of the research will be life-history interviews with by disabled persons.
“The exhibited photos were remarkable,” the Researcher said and showed this writer some of the Liberian disabled parsons’ photos she had snapped with her mobile phone. Some of the photos were of disabled people standing in front of their houses, disabled photographer’s colleagues sitting in wheelchairs, public buildings, and many different scenes. “Liberia’s disabled people are talented; their talents should be promoted by the Government or persons in the private sector,” she added.
The British Researcher said, she had done other researches in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Kenya, and Zambia.
“This visit is about my fifth time in Liberia, beginning from the Ebola time in 2015,” she recalled.
On the writer’s question of reception from her disabled guests, as well as the general Liberian public, the foreign Researcher declared: “Highly hospitable! I am overwhelmed by the hospitality of my disabled Liberian hosts and non-disabled people I have met during my research in this West African Country,” she narrated, smiled and chuckled.
“I will be back in February, 2023,” she said.
I spoke with one of the caregivers of Liberia’s disability community as part of this story.
“My caregiving is through documentation of all the activities of the disabled community, through the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled, NUOD. I’m NUOD’s Secretary and Accountant,” Madam Evelyn Deh told me at her office December 19, 2022.