Italian NGO, AIFO, Closes “Humanitarian Package” for Liberian Disabled People’s Organization


MONROVIA – In 2018, the Liberian Office of a pro-Human Rights and capacity-building Italian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)—named Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO)—established a project for Liberia’s community of persons living with disabilities. The project was named Disability And Start-Up (DASU) AIFO was founded in 1961, and registered its humanitarian presence in Liberia in 1997. The organization’s introductory program cared for Liberia’s leprosy community, and later added a palm oil and rice productions program, being run by Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) in three of Liberia’s 15 Counties: Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh. Another is a Radio program—on ECOWAS Radio (91.5 FM) for discussion on disability-related matters.

By Gban Nyea—Freelance Development Journalist

One of AIFO’s partners on the inception phase of the DASU Project was the National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD), independent advocacy and capacity-building umbrella body, which later became beneficiary of AIFO’s gesture of office space (the entire ground floor of AIFO’s Liberia Office, situated on 19th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia)

The DASU Project has officially closed, announced at a one-day AIFO-sponsored National Seminar on June 29, 2021. The event was held at the Head Office of Smart Liberia, a popular Liberian career/business-development organization, situated in Jallah Town, 2nd Street, Sinkor, Monrovia.

The Seminar’s Theme was: “Increasing the Technical Skills of DPOs in Fund Raising and Lobbying Strategies for Persons with Disabilities”  

Welcome Remark, NUOD’s president, Madam Naomi B. Harris, described her organization’s interaction with AIFO-Liberia on the DASU Project as “extraordinary rewarding most for NUOD”.

She said NUOD had been having severe challenges with the main subjects to be deliberated on: Fundraising and Lobbying.

“I urge all persons with disabilities present here to listen keenly to the presenters. In the future, you will need the knowledge you got here today,” Madam Harris assured.

On “Purpose of the Seminar”, NUOD’s Vice President, Mr. Daniel N.O. Dagbe, began with calling a Moment of Silence for NUOD’s members and partners who had died in different parts of Liberia in recent times.

He said the knowledge to be acquired will engender a “paradigm shift” of taking NUOD from the point of “always begging” foreign institutions for financial support to NUOD’s projects.

The main parts of the Seminar were preceded by remarks from AIFO’s partners—from the Government’s circle and the private sector.

On the Governmental list, only the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) was present, out of a group containing and the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection—each into areas the Italian organization is “supporting Liberia” on.

 The non-governmental group had Alliance on Disabilities, Sight Savers International, and BRAC-Liberia.

Speaking for his institution, NCD, Mr. Fallah Boimah said he had no personal knowledge of most of AIFO’s activities in Liberia, but  praised the Italian organization for “supporting Liberian disabled people’s organizations in a long time.” 

The representative of the Ministry of Education, Madam Madam Theresa W. Garwo, Director of Special and Inclusive Education at the Ministry of Education, urged disabled people to prioritize quality education, which is the major way for them to conjure respect for the non-disabled section of the society.

“Also hold together on unity for your advocacies on human rights-related issues to have weight,” she advised.

The representative of Bright Liberia said persons with disabilities are many on the Institution’s education support program. “Our academic records show that students with disabilities have performed more than students with no disability,” he announced.

Giving the Overview of the DASU Project, Mr.  J. Sylvester Roberts, AIFO’s County Coordinator, focused much on the “achievements” and “challenges” components of the Project.

On the achievements, he mentioned organizing of training programs for DPOs, national seminars, provision of start-up funding for members of DPOs for economic ventures, and other life’s sustainability or visibility-related publicity programs for the Liberian disability community.

On achievements on national seminar, Mr. Roberts mentioned a Malawian pro-PWD Advocate, Rachel Kechej, as a Guest Speaker at one of AIFO’s past programs.

“Many of the beneficiaries of the DASU Project fund mismanaged the money. They couldn’t provide records on the funds,” Mr. Roberts said when he came to the “challenges” component of the Overview.

Some of the other challenges he mentioned are: difficulty to reach disabled people in Southeastern Liberia, particularly Grand Gedeh County, due to deplorable road condition; Local Government’s lack of interest in disability issues, shown by invited officials’ absence at AIFO-sponsored consultative program in their domain of the County; and poor information dissemination on PWDs by many Journalists, especially those at Radio stations.   

The first presentation, “Strategy and Techniques Needed for Fundraising”, was done by Mr. Abel Dugbe Nowon, Financial Management Specialist at the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP)

He outlined various channels of raising—mail (traditional and electronic), door-to-door (physical meeting), telephone, online, etc.

“The integrity of the person asking for the fund plays a major role,” he cautioned, and warned each leader of a disabled people’s organization against calling a personal account to a donor when he/she is representing an organization. “Some leaders of organizations give their personal account numbers to donors. This makes the donor perceive you as being dishonest or a criminal, and ultimately causes your losing the opportunity for help,” he added.

On how to lure the financial help all philanthropist, he advised leadership of disabled people’s organization to thank all helpers on the same level, in spite of low financial support from the other giver.

Mr. Nowon concluded his presentation with group work, of four groups, to pick any of the channels of fundraising he had deliberated on. Focus, as he dictated, should be on an earmarked project (activity), beneficiary organization of the project, strategies for fundraising, projected budget, how the fund would be raised, and duration of the project.

Four groups were formed, each with a different name, and each focusing on a different age group and different needs. Names formed were: “Helping Hand Liberia”, “United People With Disabilities Organization”, “Center for Women Empowerment”, and “Disabled People’s Children Rehabilitation Organization”.

The second presentation, “Strategy and Techniques Needed for Lobbying”, was facilitated by Mr. Thatcher M. Tweh of Educare Liberia, a private organization into training on business start-up.

 He said what’s called “bribery” in other sectors is a ‘facilitation fee’ in the Lobbying World.

“If you want you want somebody to help you, you must give money—to get money,” he advised NUOD and representatives of other disabled groups in attendance.

To push his “facilitation fee” point further, he spoke about the business interaction between Liberian Senator, Varney Sherman (Lobbyist) and the Management of APM Terminals, a foreign Shipping Company, for control of the Port of Monrovia—Liberia’s leading sea port.

He talked about another Lawmaker, Gabriel Nyenkan, of District #11, Montserrado County, whose understanding of the give-money-to-get-money part of lobby caused rush of the Ministry of Public Works to build roads in his Constituency.

“Representative Gabriel Nyenkan had written over eighty letters, but he couldn’t get result, until he did what he could do,” Mr. Tweh said.

Participants made contributions, through questions or comments, during question/comment segment of each Presentation. A female participant, of Nimba County’s DPO, reported inclusion of PWDs on the County’s  Social Development Fund (SDF), and said it was a “advocacy” by County’s Disabled People’s Organization. 

At the end of the Seminar, Journalists held separate exclusive interviews with heads of DPOs. Each person praised AIFO on its intervention through the DASU Project; majority lamented on finance-related challenges.

“AIFO has greatly helped my organization, Nimba Disabled Community,” the group’s president, Mr. D. Abestine Tozay, in a wheelchair, said to a journalist during an exclusive interview.

In her closing remark, NUOD’s president, Naomi B. Harris, said proudly: “We are moving. Many DPOs are joining us. Let’s not forget our motto: There’s nothing for us that’s not by us.”

 Madam Josephine Geegbee served as the Seminar’s Sign Language Interpreter—for the hearing-impaired (deaf) participants.