Italian Organization, AIFO, Empowers Liberian Deaf Persons, in partnership with the European Union

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MONROVIA – An Italian Human Rights-focused organization, Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO), has empowered Liberians with hearing impairment (deaf) in knowledge of hairdressing, tailoring, barbering, and other professional areas. Education in Sign Language interpretation was added for non-disabled people who desire interacting with deaf persons in the learning, business and employment sectors.

The platform AIFO is working through on this educational project is named “Voice”, with a sub heading, “Voices for Inclusion and Civil Society Empowerment”, with the European Union as the Funder.

Major focus areas of the Voice Project were displayed on publicity banners: “Advocacy for Inclusion of Persons with disabilities”, “Empowerment of people with disabilities”, “Awareness for people with disabilities and the general public”, and “Employability for deaf and hard of hearing persons” 

On March 29, 2022, a Graduation Program and Trade Fair ceremonies were held for the 1st Batch (Cohort 1), Year One, of deaf students at SMART Liberia’s Event Hall, Jallah Town, Sinkor, Monrovia.

Abraham Fofana, a deaf person, served as the Master of Ceremony.

Welcome Remark was by Garlikpa D. Moluwoi, a deaf person and one of the graduates.

Madam Agatha Borbor served as Sign Language Interpreter for the entire program.

The Voice Project started in February, 2021, and will end in 2023, said Mr. Nebo R. Browne, Project Manager of AIFO on the Voice Project.

“The Voice Project is working precisely in the right direction of filling the gap for deaf people in Liberia,” said AIFO-Liberia’s Country Director, Mr. Leonardo Volpetti, at the Graduation and Trade Fair ceremonies. “That is making sure to bring these students closer to a brighter future that they deserve like everyone else. Starting with the young people who have been the protagonists of this project, Voice tries to broaden its boundaries and to reach also to families of these young people and the communities where they live.”

Mr. Volpetti said AIFO has been in this kind of Project for a very in a long time.

“Today we have the EU Delegation with us, the first who believed in the project and the one who provided the necessary fund to be able to develop it,” the AIFO-Liberia Country Director explained further.

Among local independent organizations as AIFO’s partners, Mr. Volpetti mentioned the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD), Alliance for Disability International (ADI), Williet SafeHouse, Oscar Romero School of the Deaf, and others, “who collaborate with us day after day to develop all the planned activities,” he said.

He also expressed AIFO’s gratitude to “parents, relatives, friends, community of students whose involvement has made realization of the Graduation and Trade Fair dream a success.

“And then there you guys and ladies, who with your will and determination, have seized this opportunity to emancipate yourselves and finally become more masters and arbitrators of your existence,” he said to the graduates.

“You are Super Heroes!”, the representative of the European Union, Anders Arvidsson, Deputy Head of EU Delegation in Liberia, said to the body of hearing-impaired (deaf) graduates. “Because what you have achieved with perseverance, will and inner strength you have displayed is truly remarkable. We, at the European Union, are proud and honored to have been part in supporting your remarkable journey.”

On Liberian employers, the EU Deputy Head  of Delegation said they should give “real jobs” to the deaf graduates “because you have already shown through your journey in this project that you have the strength, perseverance, and motivation to overcome any challenge. These are qualities that any employer should be looking for.”

In the concluding part of his Remark, the European Union Delegation’s representative said to the graduates: “What you have achieved is a true inspiration to all of us—in Liberia and in Europe.”

All the graduates were beneficiaries of the VOICE project of which Williette SafeHouse is an implementing partner founded by Madam Rita Stryker-Borti.

Plan International is the Chairperson of the body of Civil Society Organizations advocating for the Rights of persons living with disabilities in Liberia, said Mr. Prince A.S. Bawoh, Country Administration Manager of Plan International in Liberia.

“These various groups have emerged to collectively achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for the disabled community,” Mr. Bawoh added.

The number of graduate was 17. All were given opportunity to make remarks, and all persons talked about inspiration of the teachers during class time, and being adequately prepared to apply the knowledge gained, and wish for financial support from the Liberian Government and Liberia’s International Development Partners.

 During the Teachers’ segment of remarks, all talked about the challenges of teaching hearing-impaired persons.

“When I was contacted to teach, I imagined the communication barriers, and this discouraged me to accept the offer. But, later, said to myself, ‘those you are going to teach are fellow human being, so accept the offer’,” said Teacher Mohammed S. Bah, who had taught Tailoring.

“When a friend told me about the teaching job for deaf people, I said, ‘how will the student hear me, or how will I know what they are saying to me’. But, later, language barrier issue was solved by the school’s management” said Teacher Korto Paykoo, who had taught Hairdressing.

During partners’ remarks segment for AIFO’s partners on the “Voice” Project, the speakers urged the graduates to always put into practice the professional knowledge they had acquired. They also appealed to the Liberian Government and Partners for support toward business ventures the graduates will establish after the graduation program. Some of the partner-Institutions that spoke, through their representatives, were: Accountability Lab, Human Rights Section of the Ministry of Justice, iLab, Oscar Romero School for the Deaf, National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD)

“Liberian disabled person have great skills like their colleagues in other African countries, but Liberia’s disabled persons are not getting much support from the general public, unlike it is with their colleagues in other countries,” said Mr. Abayomi Cole, III, Innovation Manager of iLab Liberia.

“Possessing the certificate doesn’t show your being educated. Showing what you have learnt in school is,” said Mr. Lahai Gotolo, representative of NUOD, to the graduates.

“Education for persons with hearing impairment provides extracurricular activities, leadership  opportunities,” said Mr. Kutaka Devine Togba, Head of the Human Rights Division of the Ministry of Justice.

The Principal of the Oscar Romero School for the Deaf, Madam Geraldine Pinky Jones Agordo, said her institution has planned adding more courses to the existing ones—Sign Language, tailoring, hairdressing, et cetera.

The exhibition for materials for the Trade Fair was held outside of the Hall. The items were: Handicrafts (jewelry and cloth suits), foods  (in cans), and liquid and powdery substances  and The number of exhibitors was seven.

One of those displaying their personally made products was a visually impaired (blind) young man named Timothy V. Johnson, age 34. He sat behind a wooden table containing plastic bottles containing greenish and whitish liquid.

“I produced everything you are seeing on this table,” Timothy replied to this journalist’s inquiry during an interview held at his exhibition spot under a canopy. “They are clorax, liquid soap and perfume for washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms and toilets.”

He talked about the materials he used.

“For the clorox, I used chlorine, soda, and caustic soda. I used industrial perfume for the perfume, and I used foaming agent for production of the soap,” he educated the journalist.

Later, the visually impaired producer narrated some of his challenges.

“Lack of money prevents my producing clorox, liquid soap, and perfumed liquid. And because I didn’t have enough transportation fare today,  I couldn’t bring majority of my products for this trade fair,” he narrated his challenges.

AIFO opened an office in Liberia in 1997, and began contribution to Liberia’s development through a community-based rehabilitation approach on leprosy. Later, the organization established a business setup program being run disabled people into oil palm and rice production in Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh Counties. 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)

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