Liberia: 14-Year-Old Visually Impaired Boy Supports Self through Phone Call Business, Vocational Knowledge

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MONROVIA – At 10 AM of Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Central Monrovia, a visually impaired (blind) boy’s right hand’s thumb skipped over keys of a mobile phone in his left hand. His megaphone, for calling people’s attention to his business, was tied to a thin rope and on his chest. His ‘business bag’ was on his back. A carpenter’s saw was in his left hand, and his walking guide stick (plank) was held with his right hand and the right-hand-side rib as he copied customer’s phone number to send purchased call credit or internet browsing data.

Admiration and astonishment appeared on the faces of some of the people staring at his face or keenly monitoring the movement of his finger on the phone’s keys.

James and his met-by-chance clients were standing adjacent a Law Firm located between McDonald and Warren Streets.

“Your credit has been sent. Please check your phone,” he said to one of the young women in the group of five persons watching him.

“You’re right, the fifty dollars credit is in my phone,” the customer replied after checking her credit.

Two other persons paid for credit of LRD20 to LRD100.

This writer met the visually impaired businessman when he was serving customers, became impressed by his economic wisdom, patronized his business with call credit, introduced himself, and appealed for some of his business time for a short interview. “I want to use your story to motivate your visually impaired colleagues now surviving exclusively on street-begging and to draw humanitarian persons’ attention toward you for support your economic venture,” the freelance journalist said.

“You’re welcome with the interview,” the blind young Liberian businessman accepted the request. “My name is James Timothy. Besides selling phone credit and internet access data, I repair bicycles, I have knowledge of carpentry, and I have knowledge of block-laying. I take my professional tools with me on my phone call credit/data business tour,” he added in flawless English, and raised his saw and bag to the face of this writer.  

James said he lives in Topoe Village, outside the Capital, but comes to Monrovia’s Central Business District everyday because  “business is good here than where I live. I come on public transport bus each time,” he said.

James’s daily profit is between LRD500 and LRD1,000 on every LRD2,000 minutes credit loaded on  his phone.

“I started this business last year, 2020, after seven years of begging on the street. In 2020, I said to myself, ‘never go on the street again to beg’,” he said, and added: “Begging robs you of your respect other people have for you.”

The phone call credit/internet access data business was introduced by the Liberia’s branch of French telecommunication company, Orange, years ago, according to information gathered by this writer over two months before meeting 14-year-old Liberian business lad James Timothy. The concept has been adopted by Orange’s main rival, Lonestar Cell, a Liberian-owned telecommunication business. This job-creation strategy, introduced by a foreign company, has drastically sliced Liberia’s multitude of jobless people—old and young. Some of those involved into the business are single mothers, high school students, and students of higher educational institutions—getting family’s livelihoods money and school fees from profits from the business. In past months, I  interviewed  many of those involved to produce a feature article in the near future.

James Timothy’s response tone dropped on the journalist’s question about the beginning of his visual impairment.

“It started when I was one year and six months old, or eighteen-month-old,” he replied, and added: “My father abandoned me when he realized I was blind.”

He praised his mother for being behind him throughout his sightless period. “For now, she doesn’t have a regular job, so I share some of the profit of my business with her,” he said.

On academic education, James Timothy said he stopped at kindergarten level because no money.

“When I was a kid, I was enrolled at the kindergarten section of three different schools for blind people—School of the Blind, Christian Association of the Blind, and UBA (United Blind Association). But I didn’t go beyond the kindergarten level, due to financial barriers. The public is made to believe that each of these schools offers free education to blind people. But the people running them are commercial-oriented people,” he said.

The streets of Liberia’s capital city are swarmed with visually impaired beggars, many of them below age 5. For now, the Government of Liberia doesn’t have a practically functioning welfare program for the country’s disability community, even though the Government has “welfare department” through the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) and the Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection

14-year-old James Timothy is standing away from the pack of his visual colleagues who are not seeing or finding any survival means besides street-begging.

“I will be highly grateful if any financially privileged person, who had read your story of me, comes in to help me develop my business,” James said.

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