Liberian School For the Blind On The Verge Of Collapse?

Front view of the Liberian School for the Blind

Monrovia – The fate of over 70 visually impaired Liberian students to attend classes at the Liberian School for the Blind this academic year 2019/2020 remains uncertain due to the lack of budgetary support from the Government of Liberia (GOL) to the institution.

The school is located in the Township of Virginia, outside Monrovia.

It was founded in 1977 to provide education and psycho-social counseling to visually impaired citizens across Liberia.

According to the School’s Administrative Assistant, Koiffee Johnson Willie, the government is yet to provide funding to the institution since the commencement of this academic year 2019/2020.

“We have never opened as a result of lack of funding. This is the first time since I been here for the past seven (7) years. We cannot provide services to the visually impaired. Government is the sole larger funder of the school, and it has not provided funding for us to run the school. Government has to decide on our opening now. We are projecting about 75 students for this academic year,” he maintained.

Koiffee Johnson Willie, Administrator of the Liberian School for the blind

Current and previous budgetary allocations

The school, which provides primary education to visually impaired Liberian children and youths, is solely funded by the Government of Liberia (GOL), through budgetary support.

It also depends on goodwill gesture including donations and support to key programs, including feeding, from humanitarians, faith-based institutions, local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) operating in Liberia and other parts of the world.

Others support to the Liberian School for the Blind comes ‘once in the blue moon,’ or it’s not regular at all.

The school was allotted the amount of US$90,000, out of the US$563m budget passed by the 53rd National Legislature during the regime of former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

The total amount budgeted was fully received by the school’s authorities.

For Fiscal Year 2018/2019, the Liberian School for the Blind was allotted the amount of US$45,000, out of the national envelope of US$526m passed by the 54th National Legislature.

Out of the total amount budgeted for the institution, only US$20,000 was received by authorities of the Liberian School for the blind.

The Administrative Assistant of the School disclosed that the amount of US$50,000 has been allotted to the school for this current Fiscal Year 2019/2020, out of the total of US$526 million.

 “We have not received any money for this fiscal period. The remaining from last fiscal year was not given. The left over from 2017/2018 is what we managed up to March 2019. We wrote to receive the amount of US$25,000 from the government; but we didn’t receive that. If we were able to receive that money, I am sure as administrator, we would have managed that up to present, and that’s the reason we have not open yet,” Mr. Willie added.

Engagements with relevant authorities

The slow pace at which relevant authorities at the Ministries of Education and Finance and Development Planning are dragging their feet has the proclivity of jeopardizing the already challenging conditions of the visually impaired students.

Authorities of the Liberian School for the Blind have been exerting efforts to help address the situation.

“We are exerting all pressure on the Ministry of Education; our head office. We were directed by authorities to write to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning; which we did. But it’s just like the issue of no money-every time we go there people will say wait we will get to you, wait we will get to you; there is no money. And so, we are still waiting,” Mr. Willie disclosed. 

The Compound of the Liberian School for the Blind

Ghost Town The compound of the Liberian School for the Blind, situated in the township of Virginia appears like a ghost town as a result of the situation.

The friendly look on the faces of the visually impaired Liberian students and their melody voices could not be seen or heard during the morning hours of last Friday, November 1, 2019 due to the situation.

The swings which they normally ride during recess period and after classroom activities stood deserted like an abandoned corpse, while their caretakers took a nap or engage into extra activities.

The school shares vicinity with the Mango Town Public School under the Ministry of Education, and the Deaf and Dumb School.

While other students of the Mango Town Public School and the Deaf and Dumb graciously attend classes on Friday, November 1, 2019, their colleagues at the Liberian School for the Blind were at their respective homes, or elsewhere.

Many public and private schools operating in Liberia have already administered their first marking period test to their respective students.

Fear grips school authorities

Authorities of the school are expressing grave concern over the wellbeing of their students that remain at the homes of their parents or relatives, while students of other public and private institutions are attending classes.

Workers and teachers at the school remain committed to work in the midst of numerous challenges.

Most of the workers are volunteers that have spent several years at the institution, helping to provide services to the vulnerable Liberian students without being compensated by the Liberian government.

 “Well, the authorities are still in charge. We are still coming to work. We are still keeping the janitors and medical people here coming to work. We are hoping that nothing will happened to our students,” Mr. Johnson stated.

Parents/Students Concerns

“It saddened that parents from all over Liberia are calling asking what’s happening to the reopening of school. Even the students, they keep asking and we don’t want to dump their hope. We are telling them that, we are doing everything we can do as authority to have the school reopened,” Mr. Johnson added.

“We are in November and I don’t think anybody out there will feel good knowing that a blind person who supposed to be here having the opportunity to advance themselves so they do not become liability to you is out of school at this time.”

Risks associated with prolong closure

Parents and students remain concerned about the prolong delay of the re-opening of the only school that provides education to visually impaired Liberian students.

According to the school’s Administrator, most parents and students continue to inquire about the reopening of the school on a regularly basis.

The safety and wellbeing of vast majority of students attending the Liberian School for the Blind are not guaranteed because of their situation and the impoverished condition of their parents, or relatives. 

The school’s authorities fear that most of their students would become liability to others, or engage into begging if nothing is done to ensure the re-opening of the institution.

“Kids and their parents are very worried, especially the blind children staying home. This is our appeal to central government, philanthropists and goodwill people out there to timely and promptly intervene,” Mr. Johnson noted.

He continued: “We are in November and I don’t think anybody out there will feel good knowing that a blind person who supposed to be here having the opportunity to advance themselves so they do not become liability to you is out of school at this time.”

In Liberia, the government through the Ministry of Education mandates the opening of school early September of each year.

Plea To government

Authorities of the Liberian School for the Blind want the government, and other humanitarians to come to the aid of the institution

“This is the only government funded school that caters to visually impaired persons. Persons with disabilities are of the poorest of the society, and so, I hope central government can see reason to come in so that we can have the school opened,” he stated.

“Mr. President, you can get yourself involve into this. This is your school; this is some of the reasons why the people of Liberia overwhelmingly voted you to authority. It doesn’t speaks well having the school not opening yet,” Mr. Johnson maintained. 

The Liberian constitution on Education

The situation at the Liberian School for the Blind appears to be a creeping threat intended to deny Liberians, particularly visually impaired students, access to education.

Access to attaining knowledge or education is enshrined in Article 15 (b) of the 1986 Liberian constitution.

The constitution is the organic law of Liberia.

Article 15 (b) of the constitution states that: the right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.”

Ministry of Education unaware

Authorities of the Ministry of Education appear to be toying with the situation at the Liberian School for the Blind.

When contacted via telephone on Saturday, November 2, 2019, Education Ministry’s Communication Director, Maxime Bleetahn said he is unaware about the situation at the institution.

He promised that inquiries will be made to his bosses, and a definite position will be issued by the ministry.