‘Thank you for preparing me for a self-reliant life,’ she says.
By Samuel G. Dweh
Ms. Christine Mamey Vanjah, born with complete sight on 14th of December, 1972, became completely blind in April, 2007.
I met Christine at the World White Cane Day celebration, organized by the Naomi B. Harris-led National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD), held on the 14th and 15th of October, 2020 in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
I got attracted to Christine after her motivational comments to her visually impaired colleagues during the audience’s participation segment of the indoor program on the first day (October 14).
“We, blind people,” she had said, “should use other parts of our body to get our needs and wants, instead of always begging on the street or complaining to the Government. I’m using my hands to bake various kinds of bread and I know how to make wedding cakes on the knowledge I acquired several years ago.”
Inspired by her advice and personal story, I befriended Ms. Vanjah outside of the hall at the end of the indoor program on the first day and engaged her in a chat for a development story to be published after the program.
“My blindness began with my left eye in 1997,” Ms. Christine Mamey Vanjay responded to my first inquiry. “During an early hour of a day in 1997, I felt an itch in my eye and began scratching the spot to ease the itching. But it couldn’t stop. I explained the condition to one elderly neighbor, who gave me a liquid medicine to put into my eye. But the liquid made the itching worse. Few days later, I couldn’t see any object with my left eye,” she narrated the story about the first eye.
On the second eye, she said it suddenly lost visual power in a single day.
“This happened in April, 2007. I felt something like a dark cloud fell on my right eyeball one evening, and I couldn’t see anything around me. I was now completely blind, none of my eyes was functioning,” she responded to inquiry about inception of visual impairment of the other right eye.
Fortunately, Ms. Christine had acquired vocational knowledge of bread production and cake-making before the spirit of blindness struck in her both eyes.
“I learnt making of different kinds of bread and cake at the Esther Gibson Pastry School of Decoration between 1999 and 2001. I graduated in 2001. The School was in the Capitol Bye-Pass community, in Monrovia, but it has been relocated,” she recalled.
Christine was a “street girl” when she decided to learn the pastry work, she disclosed during our discussion.
“I was living on the street when I decided to acquire vocational education so that I won’t depend on men for my living,” Christine confessed. “Now, I can produce all kinds of bread — cornbread, shortbread, rice bread, cassava bread, and many more. I can also produce cakes for various occasions — birthdays, weddings, and more.”
However, since the beginning of her visual impairment, Christine’s number of clients has drastically reduced, and she’s now restricted to baking bread more than producing cakes.
“I’m now making bread in my home, and have hired young men and women take it around for sale,” she said. “I lived in the Mickey Gray community on Duport Road Junction in Paynesville,” she added.
She expressed gratitude to the First Lady of Liberia at the time for picking her “from the street” and placing her into the Esther Gibson Pastry School of Decoration.
“I’m forever grateful to the First Lady of Liberia during that time, Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor, who picked me with other homeless girls from the streets and paid for our vocational education at the Esther Gibson Pastry School of Decoration. She had a special NGO whose members were being sent to the various streets in Monrovia to collect orphans, young people on the street and put them into a vocational skills school she was attached to,” she said.
One of Christine’s wishes is to physically meet the former First Lady, who is now Liberia’s Vice President, to express her gratitude in a face-to-face conversation.
“I’m desperate to meet the former First Lady, who is now Vice President, to say, ‘Thank you for preparing me for a self-reliant life in a state of total blindness ahead of me, which I couldn’t feel with my senses during the time God connected me and you’,” she said. “But I don’t know how to meet the former First Lady, and I don’t have anybody with connection to her.”
One of the participants at the World White Cane Day celebration, listening to the discussion between me and the blind baker, chimed in information from some of Christine’s clients in Monrovia.
“In Monrovia, I had heard people talking about her stories of good pastry productions,” declared Madam Ricardia Dennis, Executive Director of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), of the Government of Liberia, one of the Speakers at the 2020’s World White Cane Day celebration.
Christine also discussed her romantic relationship.
“I was in a relationship with a man who is the father of my only child, a female, born in June, 1997,” she stated, without a question from the interviewer on the matter. “But he left me in the twenty-eighth year of relationship, in January, 2020.”
The departure of Christine’s man partially contributed to the crumble of her business, she said. “I couldn’t see, so he was over the financial part of the business,” she said in a plaintive tone.
The visually impaired baker appealed for financial support from humanitarians to take her pastry business back to the lucrative stage it was before she became blind.
“I will do the appeal over air. Perhaps the former First Lady, Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor, will also hear me on the radio and be one of those to call me for financial assistance to improve my pastry business,” she told the writer interviewing her.
Madam Jewel Howard-Taylor, Liberia’s current Vice President, has a special empathy towards persons with disabilities. This feeling is reflected in her many programs for the educational and economic empowerment this “most vulnerable group” in Liberia.
On educational empowerment, for example, she (First Lady) created a special place where children with visual impairment will be taught how to read from the blind people’s letter identification book named “Braille”. Housed at the National Library on Ashmun Street, Monrovia, the braile-use learning place is named “Jewel Howard Taylor National Children Library Braile Reading Center”. The Center was being sponsored by the “Greater Monrovia Lions Club.”
Madam Taylor’s natural humanitarian heart for (all) disabled people also pulled her toward Liberia’s Disability Community, first through the leadership of NUOD, an independent advocacy and empowerment body for disabled persons not covered—or partially covered—under the National Government’s disability’s welfare program.
With her Vice Presidential Office having direct oversight over the Government-supported Group of 77 (G-77), the Government’s humanitarian arm for persons with disabilities, Madam Jewel Howard-Taylor now has a bigger platform to pull people with physical deformities, like Christine Mamey Vanjah, out of poverty.
“People have been telling me, the former First Lady’s current governmental status makes her highly inaccessible to anybody, even disabled persons like m,e ,who she has natural love for. I am told her security won’t allow me to meet her face to face, and my letter to her will won’t be presented to her soon enough by those in her office,” Ms. Christine Mamey Vanjah said during the exclusive interview during the World White Cane Day’s celebration, October 14.