By Samuel G. Dweh (0886618906/0776583266; [email protected])
Getting to the venue for the celebration of the 2018 International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IPDP) was a physically and emotionally draining task for all those for whom the program was being observed. They were going to the Compound of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), in Sinkor, Monrovia. The day was Monday, December 3.
Some of the cane-guided continuously swayed off the main route leading to the venue. Those with crutches frequently hopped and groaned and grunted. The wheelchair-propelled kept rolling their hands with the machine’s spinning tires.
Inside the LCL’s event hall, a drum-and-sing band that calls itself the “Small Town Social Club”, based in Logan Town, a suburb of Monrovia, was entertaining participants and guests with some of their productions. A line in one of the songs says “Respect the rights for human dignity”; a line in another is telling Liberians not to hate persons with disabilities, because they have a part to play in Liberia’s development.
All participants were attired in IPDP 2018 commemorative t-shirts and caps.
“According to the UN Secretary General, over one billion people worldwide are living with disabilities,” announced the event’s emcee, Matthew Nyenplue, Secretary General of the Alliance on Disabilities, taking over from the musical entertainers.
During the remarks section for local and international partners at the celebration, the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR), represented by Mr. Tsatsa Dawson, reiterated its commitment “to always support the Government and people of Liberia on the improvement of the lives of persons living with disabilities,” Mr. Dawson said.
“We often overlook the things that cause physical, emotional and mental pains to our disabled brothers and sisters,” admitted Ms. Alfreda Jacobs, representing the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP)
Madam Silvia Pogglioli, Chairperson of Alliance on Disabilities and Country Director of AIFO, urged Liberian authorities to migrate “from policy statements in addressing issues affecting persons with disabilities, to application,” she said.
Bill S.K. Jallah, a physically challenged journalist, who spoke for the Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs), stated: “Every disabled person in here has hidden potentials that can transform Liberia and rest of the World. Perceiving us as a people only qualified to live on alms or charity will delay the development of Liberia.”
The Ministry of Justice, represented by Kutaka Devine Togbah, Director of Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD), said its wish is for a Liberia where all disabled persons will have access to all public buildings in Liberia.
Speaking for the Group of 77, an auxiliary group of PWDs operating directly under the office of the Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, Alvin Jask, who is visually impaired, boasted: “I can’t see, but I can operate all the computers in this World.” He added: “It is deniability that causes disability. Nobody is disabled until he or she is denied his or her basic rights of life.”
The Guest Speaker of the event said leaders’ inclusion of PWDs into any national project and treating them with the same fairness accorded their abled-bodied colleagues, are the benchmark for completing the universal human rights cycle.
“I feel the physical and emotional pains you experience every day, based on my feeling for my mother on the loss of her leg to amputation at age 71,” added Mr. Bartholomeo Colley, Acting Commissioner of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR).
The President George Manneh Weah, was not physically present to launch the National Action Plan on Disability (NAPD).
“But the President has assured us he will affix his signature to the document and publish them in all newspapers,” said Mrs. Ricardia B. Dennis, Executive Director of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), relaying President Weah’s message.
“A National Action Plan is a document of the things you want the government to do for you,” Boye Johnson, Program Associate at the Liberia Country office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said to participants who didn’t have any knowledge about the NAPD.
He said the NAPD will run for five years, beginning from 2018, and read out the contents: Public Accessibility, Inclusive Education, Empowerment and Livelihoods, Health Care, and Access to Justice.
He made brief explanations on each of the contents of the Document.
Mr. Johnson also said the NAPD is also written in Braille, for it to be read by visually impaired persons.
According to him, the National Union of Organizations for Disabilities (NUOD), which is the umbrella advocacy group for PWDs, as well as the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP), had rejected the NAPD when it was first introduced.
“NUOD and Gender Ministry rejected the first National Action Plan on Disability, because each institution felt the document didn’t capture disabled groups in other counties,” NCD’s Ricardia Dennis said, responding to UNDP’s Boye Johnson’s statement.
James Kiawu, visually impaired, Secretary/Media Officer of the Hope in God Association of the Blind (HIGAB), urged NUOD to be more vibrant in its advocacies for PWDs who are marginalized in all public places.
Mr. Matthew T. Bobowtie and Ms. Josephine Williams, both of the National Commission on Disabilities, served as interpreters (on sign language) for hearing impaired participants at the program.
The Local Theme of the 2018 IDPD celebration was the same as the International Theme: “Creating the Level Playing Field for Empowering Persons with Disabilities.”