On the afternoon of February 25, death snatched within its cold hands a prominent member of Liberia’s community of persons living with disabilities, a group comprising the visually impaired (blind), speech impaired (dumb and deaf), as well as those who move with the assistance of wheelchairs or crutches, etc.
The victim is Madam Naomi B. Harris, president of the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD), an independent advocacy and empowering umbrella of disabled persons who are not fully covered by the Liberian Government’s humanitarian support.
Disabled persons who directly receive Government’s help are members of Group of 77 (G-77), directly under the Office of Liberia’s Vice President.
Another Government-owned/supported body is the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), headed by an Executive Director, appointed by the Head of State.
The Secretary General of NUOD, Mr. Heylove Mark, called me at 2pm on that fateful Frida and relayed the death news. “We lost our president and mother a few minutes ago,” Mr. Mark said.
I had been writing about the disabled community since 2013, and added programs of NUOD based on my professional relationship with NUOD’s president, Madam Harris, beginning from 2016.
The following day, one of the daughters of the deceased, Ms. Maimah George, popularly called Mondaymah, narrated to me the circumstances leading to the demise of her mother.
She said her mother woke from bed lively as usual and didn’t complain about any sickness. In the afternoon, she sat behind her sewing machine to work on clothes of her grandchildren, and to sew Mondaymah’s suit for her church’s upcoming convention. Later, somebody brought a document from her office, NUOD, for her to sign.
“Later, in that same afternoon, she started saying, ‘I’m not breathing normal, my breath is cutting…’ and she said she was going to the bathroom. About two minutes later, one of the little children in the house rushed to me and said, ‘grandma said you must come quick’. I rushed to the bathroom, but I saw our mother falling. I held her, began to cry for help to take her to the hospital. One of the neighbors brought his car, we put her into the car, and she was rushed to the Catholic Hospital. The doctors who came to meet us examined her in the car, and later told us her pressure level was normal. But they called for a wheelchair and rushed her into the Hospital’s Emergency Room. But less than ten minutes later, the Hospital told us, my mother died,” Mondaymah narrated.
Madam Harris became president of NUOD in 2016; NUOD was founded on October 29, 1995.
Under Madam Naomi B. Harris’s leadership, NUOD was greatly assisted with office space and funding for empowerment programs by the Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO), an Italian International Organization empowering disabled people’s organizations in Africa. AIFO opened an office in Liberia in 1997, starting with a community-based rehabilitation approach on leprosy, and later established a business setup program being run by disabled people into oil palm and rice production in Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh Counties. Later, AIFO began sponsoring a Radio program on ECOWAS Radio (91.5) for members of Liberia’s disabled community to discuss their human rights-related plights and ways out of these physical and perceptual conditions.
Madam Harris was well known for her bluntness on issues relating to the human rights of persons living with disabilities, in line with the United Nations Conventions of Persons Living with Disabilities—UNCRPD.
She was also highly regarded for her personal humanitarian gestures.
One example is her payment of medical bill, with her personal cash, for 78-year-old Elizabeth Broh on sick bed at the Catholic Hospital (where the humanitarian later died). The elderly woman didn’t have money to settle her own medical bill, but her God accidentally connected her with the NUOD president through another person who had got information about her medical predicament at the Hospital.
The second proof of Madam Harris’s humanitarian gesture was her “begging” for a wheelchair from Monrovia Rehabilitation Center (MRC), a physical rehabilitation department of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center, for a 69-year-old disabled man, Mr. Fred Jackson, who had been crawling (moving with his knees and both hands to the ground) over seven years, due to paralysis of both his legs. Mr. Jackson had heard Madam Harris speaking on a Radio program about disabled people’s plights; he called on the show, narrated his mobility constraints, and concluded with an appeal. The wheelchair was delivered to Mr. Jackson at his residence in Gbandi Community of Grand Cape Mount County. The wheelchair was one of several donated to MRC by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Madam Harris was also popular in the Sophie’s Community, where she lived prior to her death, for her financial contributions for the development of the Community, and her personal educational empowerment programs for women in the locality.
On education, she ran a free Evening Adult Literacy class (Writing & English) on the porch of her house, for mothers of her neighborhood (Sophie’s Community), who did not have opportunity of formal education during their pre-parenthood days, and whose daytime business and family responsibilities could not permit their enrollment at an Adult Literacy School outside of the Community.
She began her professional teaching career at the Voice of Education Senior High School, situated in the James Spriggs Payne Airfield Community, Monrovia.
On overcoming mobility challenges, crutches-assisted members of NUOD, as well as disabled persons outside of the NUOD, saw Madam Harris as their role model. She climbed many public buildings’ staircases with no ramp (assistive slope for disabled people).
Her disability — paralysis of the left leg — was caused by polio, she revealed to me during one of our work-related chats in 2018. “That’s why you are seeing me walking with crutches,” she said, and laughed.
However, Madam Harris was “over-burdened” with providing the feeding, clothing, and educational needs of her ‘big’ family — comprising her biological son, children of relatives, and grandchildren. She was the major provider of the family who depended on her not-for-profit work (with NUOD) and proceeds from her personal taxi business to meet her family’s needs.
The mortal remains of Madam Naomi B. Harris were deposited at the Samuel Stryker Funeral Parlour in Sinkor, Monrovia.
The family of the deceased has set March 18, 2022 for burial. However, the family is facing a huge financial obligation relating to committing their mother, aunt, niece, and grandmother to mother earth.
“We have a huge task to raise nine thousand, one hundred United States dollars,” the moderator of the second family meeting, held on Sunday, March 6, 2022, announced to the gathering of relatives and friends of the deceased.
Anybody wishing to reach out to the family for condolence or financial support can do so through the deceased’s biological son — Alvin Peabody, Jr., student of Geology at the University of Liberia, via +231-770-894-449, the daughter of the deceased (Maimah George) on +231-555-131-764, or the brother of the deceased (Francis Mulbah) on +231-880-544-205.