Italian NGO, AIFO, Enters Liberian Disabled People’s “Work Issues”

The Italian Organization, middle, on the Workshop’s banner at the venue in Monrovia

MONROVIA – In 1997, a non-governmental Human Rights-advocacy and capacity-building organization, named Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO), founded by a French Journalist in 1961, opened Office in Liberia. The Organization’s Liberia debut was through a community-based rehabilitation approach on leprosy, and later established a business setup program being run disabled people into oil palm and rice production in Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh Counties.

By Samuel G. Dweh—freelance Development Journalist—+231 (0)886618906/776583266/[email protected]/[email protected]

“In Liberia, AIFO started with Liberians with leprosy,” declared Rebecca Stubberfield, Project Manager of Coordinated Action on Disability in Liberia (CAD-L), a Project funded by the Swedish  Embassy in Monrovia, at a two-day Workshop (16-17 February, 2021) on ‘decent work environment’ for Persons with Disabilities, held at the Liberia Chamber of Commerce in Monrovia. Similar Workshops had been held in Bong County and Nimba Counties.

Partners to the CAD-L projects are Liberia Labour Congress, Alliance on Disability, Liberia Chamber of Commerce, and the National Union of Organization the Disabled (NUOD)

AIFO’s Partners on the Workshop were the Liberia Labour Congress, Liberia Chamber of Commerce, and Swedish Embassy-supported CAD-L.

From leprosy-related issue, AIFO has expanded its human rights-protection umbrella to disabled Liberians. Two of its many engagements are offer of an office space to the Nation Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD), a private umbrella body of Liberian disabled groups at AIFO’s Country Office on 19th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia; and sponsorship of a radio program for PWDs to interact with the wider public on problems affecting the disability community. The PWD issues are being aired on ECOWAS Radio (91.5)

In recent times, AIFO has joined the Liberia Labour Congress on a brainstorming session about employment/work-related issues facing Liberians living with disabilities. During the session a 46-page illustrations-decorated book, entitled “Sensitization Manual: Decent Work, Inclusion and Accessibility. Where Is Your Attitude?” was launched. The Liberia Labour Congress produced the Manual, with financial support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) of the United Nations.

“AIFO plans its activities, in line with the decent work environment project, in January, 2020, but the Coronavirus pandemic caused our shifting it to the following year,” AIFO’s representative, Madam Rebecca Stubberfield, said at the two-day Workshop mentioned earlier.

Other partners on the project made remarks at the two-day Workshop, which preceded the presentations segment.

Representing the Liberia Labour Congress, Madam Stephanine S. Duncan said the Tripartite Committee, of which the LCC is a part, is information-constraint due to insufficient information on PWDs from some members of the Committee.

  The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), represented by Mr. Adama Dempster, said non-disabled people’s “feelings for persons with disabilities are seen in their actions toward or for them.”

“We are here to hear how the decent work environment can be safe for persons with disabilities, according to the various presentations to be given here,” said Naomi B. Harris, president of the National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD)

The National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), represented by its Executive Director, Mrs. Ricardia Dennis, said much talking by national government has been done on the rights of PWDs, but no much actions. “People respect policy makers and advocates more by our actions, not by our words,” she added.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) reaffirmed its commitment to Liberia’s disabled people’s community on decent work environment, said Mr. Salif A. Massalay, ILO’s Country Coordinator for Liberia, representing his Institution. “The ILO’s support to the production of the Decent Work Manual presented at this Workshop shows its commitment to a decent work for disabled persons, as well as workers with no disability,” he added.

The Ministry of Labour has little information on Liberia’s PWDs because PWD organizations had not provided more information about their memberships and activities, declared Attorney Welma B. Sampson, representing the Ministry.

There was no representative from invited Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) throughout the two-day Workshop. The “Social Protection” section the Ministry covers “disabilities”.

On the “Expectations” segment of the Workshop, majority of the participants recommended Ram (leveled pathway) in all public buildings for painless access or mobility of PWDs into them.

There were five presentations covering the two-day Workshop.

The first presentation—“Myths, Truths, and Realities”—was done by Madam Mongana May-Cole, Disable Desk Officer, Liberia Labour Congress.

A disabled (physically challenged), she began with questions to the audience about each person’s understanding of the three components of her presentation; several responses came out.

“The Myth is other people’s common belief that a person can’t perform a professional or technical task because he or she has disability,” she announced.

On “Truth”, she said what can’t be argued is a disabled person isn’t immune to sickness—like a person with no disability.

During conclusion, she challenge the PWDs to rise above the mindset of absolute reliance on others for their survival, and mentioned names of four persons she consider as role models to PWDs at the Workshop, in terms of self-reliance and prominence in their respective societies. “Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States; Helen Keller, an American author and lecturer; Madam Naomi B. Harris, who has been leading NUOD with distinction; and Madam Ricardia Dennis, Executive Director of the National Commission on Disabilities,” she explained.

Over “Accessibility/Work Environment”, Mr. Prince Leo Kponboror, Project/Research Director, Liberia Labour Congress, focused much on Chapters Two and Three of the Manual with a subheading “Labour for All, All for Labour” and “Inclusive Enterprise”. Both chapters address issues including non-disabled people’s negative perception against PWDs looking for job or employed, accessibility challenge, and diversity at a work place.

On non-disabled employer’s negative perception against disabled employee, Mr. Kponboror narrated a story about a visually impaired Liberian educator and agriculturist who was denied employment at a Care Center named Victoria Thomas Orphanage Home, and lost his job at a non-for-profit organization named RISE (acronym)

On the third presentation, “Employers, Duty Bearers, CSOs, NGOs and PWDs As Its Relates to Decent Work Environment”, Madam Naomi B. Harris, president of NUOD, differentiated the various roles of stakeholders of the employment sector.

“The Police fall under Duty Bearers—to protect disabled people using public road, especially those crossing the street,” pointed out Madam Harris, physically challenged.   

Madam Ricardia Dennis, Executive of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), was assigned the third Presentation entitled “How Do We Respond to Work Rights and Inclusion?”

She spoke on “physical access”, “attitudinal barriers”, “reasonable accommodation”, and “legal or binding instruments”—under the general thematic areas, and featured Article 19 of the United Nations Convention for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which dwells on independent living of every disabled person and his or her ‘inclusion’ into the community.

“At the Ministerial Complex, only the ground floor is accessible to persons with disabilities; there is no Ram from the first to the last floor,” she said about the Liberian Government’s four-story Duplex for Government’s Ministries constructed by the Chinese Government during the Presidency of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Madam Ophelia N. Carpenter, Deputy Secretary General of the Liberia Labour Congress, handled the fourth, and last presentation of the Workshop, took up the topic “Trade Union Actions on PWDs and Decent Work”

One of the responsibilities of the Trade Union of Liberia is to “protect disabled people from injuries in the work place, as well as non-disabled workers,” she announced.

She said the legal employment age is from 15 years, 48 working hours per week, three Dollars and fifty cent (American Currency) as wage for unskilled labour, and five Dollars (American Currency) for skilled  labour.

“Maternity Leave is fourteen weeks from the day of delivery, while Paternity Leave is five working days, from the day the male employee’s wife gave birth,” the LLC’s SG informed the audience.

There was Group Works/presentations on each of the Presentations. On Day One, all groups chose only visually impaired participants for presentation; visually impaired persons were in the majority of participants that spoke for each of the groups for presentations on Day Two.

One of the groups flagged the issue of Banks’ refusal to give loan to disabled people on the perception that the PWD won’t return the credited money on the excuse of “disability”

Several suggestions came from the disabled participants. One of them was inclusion of sign language interpreters for both Governmental Meetings and Workshops with hearing-impaired persons in attendance.

A visually impaired participant, Christine Vanjah, brought her culinary production—“Rice Bread”—on Day Two of the Program, with a slice sold for 50 Liberian Dollars (US$.8 cent) and five United States Dollars. She gave some pieces out free as sale strategy for future patronage.