By Samuel G. Dweh (0886-618-906/0776-583-266; [email protected])
The national advocacy group for Liberia’s disabled persons—blind, wheelchair-mobile, crutches-enabled, and those who move on their hands and knees—is crying to the Government of George Manneh Weah for attention.
Named National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD), the group made its appeal through a Press Conference held at its headquarters on 17th Street, in Sinkor, in Monrovia, on January 10, 2018.
The first part of the group’s five-paragraph Press Release reads: “The National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD) and its counties’ coordinators, in collaboration with heads of disabled organizations, DPOs (Disabled Persons Organizations), and all disabled persons, want to use this opportunity to congratulate Sen. George Manneh Weah, Sen. Jewel S. Howard-Taylor, Vice President-elect, all re-elected and newly elected Representatives of the 54th National Legislature of Liberia.”
NUOD said the Press Conference was a medium to pledge its “unflinching support to the democratically elected Government” of George Manneh Weah, the Union’s Press Release, issued to journalists at the event, states.
NUOD also used the Press Conference to inform the Nation about many denials members had encountered during the tenure of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, George Manneh Weah’s immediate predecessor. “…we (Disabled persons) in particular have not had the latitude to meeting our potentials when it comes to governance, even though we have the skills, the competence and qualifications that are paramount to nation building,” the third part of the Press Release, read by the group president Naomi B. Harris, states.
In conclusion, NUOD appealed to Mr. Weah’s government to “provide opportunities to persons with disabilities to utilize their potentials as we strive to building a better Liberia,” said NUOD president, reading from the prepared text (Press Release)
Responding to questions from journalists, NUOD president Naomi B. Harris said the membership of NUOD is a part of the ‘people’ Senator George Manneh Weah had told the Nation during his presidential campaign time he would work for. “Senator Weah had most often said ‘the people’ when he was campaigning for the presidency of Liberia. Disabled persons are parts of the ‘people’ he was talking about,” the NUOD boss replied to a question on why NUOD was approaching the government of the football legend-turned politician for a national service space for NUOD members in his government.
On the question of inaccessibility in public building for wheelchair-or crutches-mobile NUOD members, Madam Harris said the Union will engage President Weah’s government on the UN Conventions on the rights of persons with disability. “The UN’s convention about inaccessibility, for example, has already been domesticated in Liberia. What Ambassador Weah’s government need to do is to go to our law book and implement it,” she answered.
In different interviews, members of NUOD informed journalists about their potentials they claim are paramount to nation building, and obstacles from other people’s perception they encounter.
President Harris told me in an exclusive interview that she holds an Associate of Arts Degree in Education at private mobile institution called LICOCES in 2009. “On truthfulness, I didn’t encounter any blockade when I was looking for a teaching job, due to my physical disability,” the victim of Polio, that paralyzed her left leg at age two, told me. “I was easily accepted at the Voice of Education Elementary and Junior High School, in Monrovia, where I taught all subjects from 2006 to 2008. The same thing happened to me at Mason High School, in Monrovia, where I taught all subjects from 2009 to 2012,” she added.
Mr. Daniel N.O. Dagbe, NUOD’s Vice President for Operations, is highly educated, but says he had encountered stereotype on his job in government, which he attributes to his being visually impaired. “I earned a BBA Degree in Accounting at the University of Liberia in 1996,” Mr. Dagbe told me in an exclusive interview at the Press Conference. “I got a job as a Senior Auditor and Deputy Team Leader at the General Auditing Commission of the government, but the government forced me into premature retirement on October 1, 2006, when I became completely blind due to Glaucoma, which struck in 2005. I protested the government’s action against me, but nobody listened to me.”
Mr. Dagbe said he had spent 30 years in the teaching field covering more than 25 Junior and Senior High schools including G.W. Gibson on the Capitol Bye-Pass, Monrovia, teaching Mathematics and Language Art in each School. “I have eighteen years of work experience,” he boasted to me.
Another disabled woman, Hannah J. Watson, who works at the government’s disabled agency, National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), has an MA in Administration at the University of Liberia’s Graduate School in 2017, said her disability (paralyzed leg) delayed her entry into a University after she graduated from High School in 1982. “First, I wanted to enroll at the University of Liberia in 2006, but I dropped the idea because of the body pains and stress from traversing from one UL’s building to another, added to the high rocks and hills confronting students moving on crutches, like me, on UL’s campus,” she said in an exclusive interview at the Press Conference. She said she later enrolled at the AME Zion University on Benson Street, Monrovia, with less trekking and no rocks or hill. “I never experienced obstacle to getting job anywhere based on my physical condition,” she added.
Madam recalled her disabled colleague and closest friend, Laura Askie, sharing her experience. “Laura’s now in the United States,” she noted.
NUOD was founded on October 29, 1995. The central office o(headquarter), currently based in the Nation’s capital city, works through DPOs (Disablede Persons Organizations), which are currently in 14 of Liberia’s 15 Counties.
On the implementation of its earmarked projects, NUOD gets some financial help from the office of the Head of State. The United Nations Development Project (UNDP) provides a larger chunk of the Union’s project implementation funding. In 2016, for example, UNDP sponsored the Union’s National Referendum awareness workshop in five of the 15 counties.
Other supporters include: Sight Savers (mainly for the visually impaired), Handicap International, AIFO (an Italian humanitarian organization), the National Lottery Authority (Liberia), among a host of helpers for NUOD in time of financial distress.