Liberia: NGO Uses Disabled People’s Talents As Poverty-Eradication Strategy
MONROVIA – Six young Persons with Disabilities (four males and two female) were part of a body of adults and children in a knowledge-impartation session being conducted under the shades of mango trees in the Capitol Bye-Pass Community, Monrovia, on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Those sitting faced a lecturing young man in front of a black chalkboard with the following information: “GABANJA INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEER PROGRAM…TUTORIALS IN NATIONAL CURRICULUM SUBJECTS & TALENTS PROMOTION”
By Samuel G. Dweh, [email protected], Contributor
The disabled persons, sitting in plastic and wooden chairs, were with their walking aids—wheelchairs, crutches and White Cane.
“As usual, I remain your regular Coach, Joseph Pius Leo, for the Gabanja International Volunteer Program’s academic and talents discovery or promotion segments,” the man began. “For today’s educational session, we will do only talents exhibition, beginning with our disadvantaged brothers and sisters. Who will be the first to come out from the group of our special brothers and sisters here?”
A young man raised one of his crutches. “I,” he said.
“We will now welcome our first volunteer performer,” Coach Leo said.
“My colleagues here will back me up with dancing,” the disabled guy said, beckoned to two of his male colleagues with him, and moved up to the stage.
Two visually impaired members came out.
“Let’s clap for our colleagues and classmates as they go on stage!” Coach Leo commanded the body of disabled and able-bodied students.
A rapturous applause came out from the audience.
“I’m going to do for you a song entitled ‘Who Said Disabled Should Only Beg?’, one of the songs of my musical album to be launched soon, if I get money,” the artiste said, balanced on his crutches, and became singing. Some of the lines in the song stated: God never created a disabled person; disability is from circumstances; and God is telling each disabled person to use his or talent to survive like the non-disabled person is doing.
The back-up pair became dancing to the lyrics of the song.
“Thank Artiste Daniel and his back-up dancers with a deafening applause!” Coach Leo commanded the audience when the performance ended.
The sounds of palms’ collision went out from the audience.
“We want to be entertained by one of our special sisters here!” a non-disabled member put in a demand.
“In next week’s coaching class!” a disabled female responded, and laughed.
“Here, talent exhibition is voluntary,” Coach Leo reminded the audience.
At the end of the coaching session, I spoke with two officials of the Gabanja International Volunteer Program, a non-for-profit one.
“Gabanja is a word of a Ghanaian Language—Twi. It means ‘a small equipment or too that’s sensitive’. The Organization’s name comes from my paternal background: Ghanaian. My father is of Ghana; my mother is a Liberia,” the Organization’s Chief Executive Officer, Emmanuel Balo—born on August 27, 2002.
“At age 16, when I was in High School, God gave me a vision to educate and economically empower young people like myself, especially persons with disabilities, from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. So, I founded a platform for the realization of this nation-building vision, with my classmates being the first members. Some students from the other classes joined. During that time I was president of the School’s Student Council Government.”
The School Emmanuel spoke about is Monrovia Demonstration High School, located on Clay Street, Monrovia.
However, most of Emmanuel Balo’s classmates abandoned the Vision.
“They wanted to get instant rewards, in terms of cash or other things, from their voluntary services, which I couldn’t afford during time. So, they stopped coming,” Emmanuel recalled.
On implementation methods, the leadership of the Gabanja International Volunteer Program hires professional persons to help on coaching.
“We create a representative coaching system, named Active Cell, in each community, where we also discover talents and do recruitment,” added Emmanuel said the second child of four children of the union of Mr. James Balo (Ghanaian) and Lovette Jones (Liberian), and currently in the 10th grade at the Noah’s Ark High School, located in Gardnesville, his childhood settlement.
Emmanuel’s Mission is to touch each of Liberia’s 15 Counties with this Program, he disclosed during the interview.
The organization is into partnership with various disabled people’s groups to reach out to its main targeted persons on talents discovery or selling for its poverty-reduction.
“One of our partner-organizations is the United Blind Association of Liberia, or UBAL, through one of its academically brilliant officially, visually impaired, named James Kiawu,” added Emmanuel, who represented his Institution at events marking the 2020’s celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (held on December 3) in which UBAL also participated.
On challenges, the young Chief Executive Officer stressed funding.
“Lack of funding!” he responded emphatically to the interviewer’s question, and added: “You know, every not-for-profit organization is prohibited from engaging into commercial venture in line with International Best Practice. So, we depend on individual persons and organizations for help, for us to turn our dreams into reality. But none of the financially privileged persons, including top Government officials, has responded to our communications sent to him or her.”
For now, only some of the “excited parents whose kids are immensely benefiting from the organization’s academic or talent-exhibition coaching compensate with little money, between one hundred and five hundred Liberian dollars, most times at the end of the month,” the 18-year-old CEO explained in a tone exposing his frustration.
For his part, Coach Joseph Pius Leo, age 40, explained to me: “I’m a movie actor, movie script writer, movie director, and member of the Liberia Movie Union. After my junior brother, Emmanuel Balo, appealed to me to support his vision, I thought about adding amusement or entertainment to his Vision of liberating young people from poverty.”
The Organization’s Chairman, Francis Saah Koshay, now based in the United States of America, the CEO’s childhood friend in Liberia, said his connection to Emmanuel’s Vision is based on his personal love for Persons with Disabilities, especially Liberians. Saah left for the United States in 2017.
“I became more involved with the disabled persons’ issues when I started giving lift, in my car, to a physically challenged Liberian woman, named Samerica Zogar, in America here,” the Chairman told me via phone call.
As a proof of his Liberian nationality to this writer, Koshay said: My ancestral home in Liberia is Solumba, of Lofa County, North-West of the Country.”
“I’m a young man, a part-time worker, and a student in America here,” Koshay responded to inquiry about his age, education, and source of livelihoods in the foreign Land.
After the Chairman had spoken, Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Balo chipped in: “For now, Koshay is the only source of funding for Gabanja International Volunteer Program’s nation-building programs, contributing his Widow’s Mite only for the realization of everybody’s dream. We are appealing to other patriotic Liberians and Liberia’s foreign development partners to financially assist us on this national developmental project.”