Liberia: Visually Impaired Kids Join NUOD’s ‘Global Disabled People’s Day’ Celebration

In assembly for Parade: Some of the Visually Impaired children front Row: Four of the little Visually Impaired IDPD celebrants. With them (Left-Right): Pastor Peter P.K. Flomo, 2nd Vice President, NUOD; Mr. Preston G. Vaye (Pro-PWD Advocate

MONROVIA – The event was the year 2020’s celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), organized by the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD), an independent advocacy and capacity-building mother-body led by Madam Naomi B. Harris as president.

By Samuel G. Dweh, Freelance Development Journalist  

Unlike celebrations in the past, this year’s IDPD celebration lacked much momentum, in terms of huge numbers of out-door celebrants, financial support from most of the local and International Partners, and no transportation reimbursement for PWDs who attended the indoor segment.

Some help for NUOD, to organize events for the 2020’s IDPD, came from: United Nations Development Project (UNDP); Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO), an Italian disabled people’s empowerment Organization working with NUOD; Sight Savers (International);  BRAC (a Bangladeshi loan-based empower organization); National Lottery Authority (NLA); and the University of Liberia (for Indoor program venue)

NUOD’s local Theme was: “Building Back an adequate standard of the living of Persons with Disabilities that lead toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 in Liberia.”

The number of Visually Impaired children was more than 15, in a body of disabled children and adults assembled in front of the BW Harris High School (Broad Street, Monrovia) for a Parade to end at the University of Liberia (venue of indoor program)

Each person had a ‘guide stick’ (White Cane), his or her visually powerless eyes stuck into innocent face pointing upward or downward to mentally catch images they could feel around them.

Insufficient time allowed my speaking to only four of the visually impaired children. My questions were restricted to each kid’s name, age, organization representing, name of school and class. Each of them mentioned United Blind Association of Liberia (UBAL) as organization representing, and being student of the organization’s Academy. UBAL is based in Gardnesville, outside of the Nation’s Capital.

“My name is Emmet Kaba. I’m twelve years old. I’m in the 1st grade class,” the first interviewed person responded to my question.

The second interviewed kid responded to questions: “My name is Henry Joe. I’m eight years old, and I’m in the 2nd grade.”

“My name is Laurena Massaquoi. I’m seven years old. I’m in the 1st grade,” the third kid responded to questions.

“My name is Vivian Kolleh. I’m eight years old. I’m in the 3rd grade,” the fourth kid responded to my question.  

Parade started at 10:20am, under various musical tunes, mostly Christmas carols, from a hired Brass Band named “Victory Marching Band” of four young men.

The Liberia National Police (LNP) supported the march through officers Anthony Mulbah (of the “Center Street Police Station”) and Santos Jarteh (of the “Ashmun Street Police Depot”)

Officer Augustine Nyan of the Traffic Control Division of the Monrovia City Police also helped with pausing movements of vehicles at streets’ intersections for the disabled marchers to safely pass.  

Some of the visually impaired persons raised their ‘safety Cane’ for view by drivers of moving vehicles coming toward the body of marchers.

From the 30th minute of the Parade, many of the disabled Persons’ stamina dropped, shown in their facial pause on singing, and ‘snail-pace movement’ by others. Eight-year-old visually Henry Joe gripped the trouser of one of the Brass Band member for support.

“Let’s march..on, on we go! It’s our tradition for the World’s disabled person’s day!” a visually impaired marcher, led by a female child, said to no particular person in the body of thronging disabled persons.

The marching exercise ended at the entrance of the Auditorium of the University of Liberia. It covered 48 minutes.

The rush of the body of the PWDs into Hall spoke of everybody’s physical exhaustion.

NUOD’s Chaplain, Comfort Bestman, opened the indoor segment with a Christian prayer and song.

“Seeing visually impaired and other disabled people marching, non-disabled people now believe we are physically and mentally strong like them,” said NUOD’s 2nd Vice President, Peter P.K. Flomo, during the Welcome Remark. “What we did from Broad Street to where we are is a proof of NUOD’s motto: ‘Disability, Not Inability’.”

He said the George Manneh-led Liberian Government didn’t financially respond to NUOD’s appeal for financial support for the 2020’s IDPD celebration, and that the Government had never supported any of NUOD’s program since beginning of Mr. Weah’s Presidency in 2018. “However, lack of support from President Weah or his Government doesn’t mean we, disabled people of Liberia, shouldn’t celebrate this Day declared by the United Nations,” he added.

Giving the Overview of the program, Mr. Melvin Harding said NUOD’s spearhead of the IDPD celebration was in line with UN General Assembly’s resolution 47/3 of the IDPD, established by the UNGA in 1992.

The next segment was about exhibition of talents in the Disability Community of Liberia.

Benjamin Y. W. Gibson (visually impaired) sang a song, entitled “I’m Freed”, from his musical album due for launch soon.

A four-kid team of the United Blind Association of Liberia, led by eight-year-old Henry Joe, did a recitation entitled “Alphabetical Drill from the Braille” that teaches on what number is assigned to each letter on the visually impaired people’s reading pad named Braille.  

Isaac Kolleh (visually impaired), guitarist, thrilled the audience by two songs—Christmas carol and Gospel.

There was cultural performance, done by John H. Quiah (alias “Fire Man”), a member of the National Cultural Troupe of Liberia, who inserted a flaming stick into his mouth. 

Since 2008, no new data on the number of Liberians living with disabilities produced by a Government of Liberia, said Mr. Adama K. Dempster, representative of the Civil Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, Keynote  Speaker of the local IDPD celebration.

“According to the 2008’s report on Disabilities, 8.7 millions Liberians are living with disabilities,” he quoted.

He said the presence of the COVID-19 has worsened Liberian PWDs’ condition, and that the Disability Community hasn’t been given priority in the ‘national free food’ package of the George M. Weah’s Government to reduce the level of COVID-19 impact-caused national hunger level.

Speaking for AIFO, Luther Mendin, Communication and Program Support Officer, said his Institution is developing  “thematic trainings targeting Local Authorities and the Media to practically support them to establishing mechanisms for the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at community levels to fairly and respectfully depict and enhance the cause of for a more inclusive society in Liberia.”

With her entourage on stage, the president of the Young Political Leadership School Africa (YPLSA), Wellay T. Barr, said some of the students in the school are disabled persons, and “they are performing academically better than many of the students without disabilities,” she said, and introduced two of the academically brilliant disabled students—Vicencia Mcture (visually impaired) and Abdullah Tahi  Konateh (speech impaired)

The George Weah’s Government didn’t support celebration of the 2020’s IDPD celebration because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe financial constraints on the Government, disclosed Rev. Fallah Boima, representing the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD)

Mr. Preston G. Vaye, a passionate and vocal advocate for Liberia’s Disability Community, lamented the absence of Government officials who received invitation to the program. “If this program was another political gathering, to ensure more votes for them, they would have been present,” he assumed. 

The Founder of a health and exercise Institution, TPREZ Health & Fitness Group, Mr. Vaye narrated personal knowledge of a female graduate in Mid-Wifery who was denied employment into a Medical Company because of her disability (physically challenged), and a elderly visually impaired man, based in Nimba County, using “big stick” (as his White Cane) because none of the local leaders has felt the need to assist him.

“I take several of my disabled friends—men and women—to Entertainment Centers, my non-disabled friends make jest at me for being with a disabled person, but I’m ashamed of being with my physically disadvantaged friends,” he narrated.

Giving the Vote of Thanks, NUOD’s Vice President for Operations, Mr. Daniel N.O. Dagbe, made a clarion call to each member of the Disability Community to contribute hundred United States dollars toward the political campaign of a PWD who has joined the race for a seat in the House of Representatives or Senate. “This person will fight for the rights of Persons with Disabilities, instead of somebody who want to steal our votes through small cash, T-shirt, or facecap,” he added.   

Speaking for her Office, NUOD’s Chief Finance Officer, Ms. Evelyn Deh, told the audience that there would be no “transportation reimbursement” for anybody, due to “severe financial constraints” of the Institution. “As you all are already aware, we are celebrating this year’s International Day of Persons With Disabilities with severe financial constraints. So, please have the only the foods, and you can return to our respective places later.”

The hearing-impaired participants got the main messages through Sign Language Interpreters Matthew T. Bobowhe, Jr. and Josephine William Geeben—all of the National Commission on Disabilities (NDC)

The President of NUOD, Madam Naomi B. Harris, was absent at the 2020’s IDPD celebration, because she was representing her Institution on the Liberia Elections Observers Network (LEON) during Country-wide awareness about the Country’s Senatorial election scheduled for December 8. NUOD is part of LEON.