Archive | December, 2015

Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – abilities not disability

14 Dec

WESOFOD is a Sierra Leonean NGO run by and for people with disabilities. It is an organization that Children in Crisis is proud to count as a local partner. This blog was written by Joseph Kamara, WESOFOD’s Founder and Director, for Children in Crisis’ supporters – to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and to give voice to people with disabilities in rural Sierra Leone. Voices which are being listened to more and more thanks to Joseph and WESOFOD.

The international day of persons with disabilities is a very important day for people with disabilities around the world. For us in Kambia, Sierra Leone, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the year and meet with communities to remind them of their duties and responsibilities in making the world inclusive for ALL abilities.

This year, WESOFOD decided to go farther into one of the hardest-to-reach communities, Bramaia Chiefdom, to raise awareness of the gains to be made from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

T-shirts ready for the day

T-shirts ready for the day

To make this day a success, people with disabilities from all walks of life came from across Kambia district and all over Bramaia chiefdom to its main town of Kukuna. For the first time in the history of Bramaia chiefdom, people with disabilities, as well as their parents, well-wishers and chiefdom leaders filled the major street of their town, singing and dancing and marching to their village hall. Almost the entire township joined the march. They marched with us all the way into the village hall to hear what we had to say. People with disabilities held placards with various messages and during the meeting, described with passion what each of their placards meant. This was what some of them said:

Focus on my ability and not my disability. In his local language and with almost tears in his eyes he said: ‘you always look at our blind eyes, our small limbs, our arched backs, our speech impairment, our disabilities; you deny us opportunities, education, jobs, the right to talk in meetings all because of  our disability. Today I want to say it here loud and clear- we have more abilities than the disability’’.

Focus on my mbility and not my disability

Focus on my ability and not my disability

By promoting Empowerment, real opportunities for people are created. ‘When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities’. ‘Give us education, give us skill so we will be able to look after ourselves, our families and give up street begging’.

Why provoke me? In her presentation, she asked this question three times and concluded, ‘it could be you, you and you’.This question made the entire hall silent. The majority of those present were guilty of this. Provocation is a challenge for many people with disabilities across Kambia district. A lot needs to be done to address the situation.

It could be you, you and you

It could be you, you and you

‘It could be you, you and you’ was a strong message from this child. He was very loud and brief; ‘disability was never a choice for me and I am sure it will never be a choice for anyone of you, it will come when it will come’. ‘Why not join WESOFOD in making Kambia district inclusive for all abilities’?

In the past, it has always been a challenge to bring stakeholders to a meeting that has to do with disability issues. In Bramaia it was a different case. Was it because they wanted to see for the first time people with disabilities singing and dancing? For some people, yes, but for majority, no. By the end of the day I realised why there was such a huge turnout. I saw sincerity in their statements. They were touched by our presentations and especially the presentations from the children. They know these issues were real in their communities and they wanted to do something to help and to support WESOFOD to address disability issues in their chiefdom and the district as a whole. Every section in the chiefdom pledged to donate a piece of land to be developed to empower people with disabilities in their communities.

In his statement, the paramount chief representative assured WESOFOD that they will do all in their powers to make sure that all new public structures are made accessible to people with disabilities in their chiefdom. ‘We are sorry we do not have the resources to make our present schools and public places accessible to people with disabilities but we give all the support within our reach to help WESOFOD correct these past wrongs’.

Magbema Chiefdom's football team

Magbema Chiefdom’s football team

The social inclusion evening also made the day a memorable one. This included a football match between persons with disabilities in Magbema chiefdom and Bramaia chiefdom and a dusk to dawn dance. For the first time in the history of Bramaia chiefdom people with disabilities were seen in the field of play.

For me, the day was a huge success. People with disabilities came out in their numbers. Thirty three children and fifty nine youngsters/adults were registered and have joined the WESOFOD membership. People with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom saw successful and authoritative colleagues with disabilities from their own district sitting at the high table together with their local authorities, telling them to open their eyes and see ability in disability and appealing to them to make space for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom, Kambia district and Sierra Leone.

Children with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom for the first time saw more fortunate children with disabilities, who had the opportunity to be cared for by WESOFOD, role-playing the challenges faced in getting an education; the attitude of parents of children with disabilities and communities towards children with disabilities in their own homes and communities. They are happy that WESOFOD has come to their chiefdom and this gives them hope for a better future. Above all, they are very hopeful that these pieces of land that their stakeholders have pledged to give to WESOFOD will in future be developed to better their lives and their communities. Lastly, after almost a year and half of the Ebola crisis, we were able to come out, we were seen and heard, we were able to tell the people of Bramaia chiefdom-one of the hardest to reach and remotest communities of Kambia district – that Inclusion Matters, and that Access and Empowerment are key to inclusion.

WESOFOD staff and members

WESOFOD staff and members

As I reflect on the 2015 theme of the IDPWDs- ‘Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment of people of all abilities. Let us as a section, chiefdom, a district, a country and the world at large reflect on these questions: ‘How many of our offices are accessible to people with disabilities? How many of our health centres are accessible to people with disabilities especially women and children? How many of our schools are accessible to children with disabilities? How many of our mosques and churches are accessible to people with disabilities? How much have we invested in making sure children with disabilities are in school? How much have you invested in women with disabilities to eliminate all forms of abuse and discriminate against them? How much have we contributed to making our communities, our district, our country and our world inclusive for all abilities? How much have we contributed to the empowerment of people with disabilities?’

Written by Joseph Alieu Kamara -Founder and Director -WESOFOD

Laura Colgan – Sierra Leone – Mr Kamara

3 Dec

When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, some said Minister for Education, some said Minister for Disabilities, several said President, and many said that they wanted to grow up to be just like Mr Kamara.

On my recent and very first trip to Children in Crisis’ projects in Kambia, Sierra Leone, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Joseph Kamara, the founder of our local partner organisation WESOFOD. I accompanied Joseph on his visits to some of the communities that Children in Crisis and WESOFOD work in. There, we met some of the children we have supported, as well as those who still need support.

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Joseph Kamara, the founder of Children in Crisis’ partner organisation WESOFOD – a local NGO run by people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities.

Despite the lack of knowledge and understanding around disabilities in Kambia, it was incredible to see such a positive and welcoming reaction to Joseph’s arrival within these communities. For the children we met – many of them confined to their homes because the world beyond their (often high and challenging) doorstep is not adapted to their needs – I thought that it must be rare for them to see a person with disabilities being regarded in such high esteem.

It was at these moments that I felt truly proud to work for an organisation like Children in Crisis, that puts such great emphasis on working with local partners – and WESOFOD is a pretty special example of this. Joseph himself is living proof that people with disabilities in Sierra Leone CAN succeed and be a beacon for their communities, and he represents everything that WESOFOD is, with absolute determination and pride.

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Some of the children who are cared for by WESOFOD

When we spoke to the children who were soon to move into a new home and treatment centre, many told us about the multitudinous challenges faced by people with disabilities in Kambia, but that Joseph had given them hope. When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, some said Minister for Education, some said Minister for Disabilities, several said President, and many said that they wanted to grow up to be just like Mr Kamara.

Since returning to London, I am constantly reminded of my time with WESOFOD. When a London bus driver moves closer to the curb to allow a wheelchair user to disembark using the built-in ramp (there are many wonderful things about that sentence) I am immediately transported back to the remote communities of Kambia.

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Children with disabilities in rural Kambia are often confined to their homes, unable to travel on unpaved roads

I have become infinitely more aware of my surroundings in so many ways. I have realised that every inch of the land around me is produced, reinforced, maintained, and adapted so that it is that much more accessible (though certainly far from perfect). I was born into this world. I did not earn it or contribute to it, I am simply lucky. I have a whole new appreciation for my own mobility, and how something as seemingly simple as a flat pavement can mean a child’s safe route to school.

I think of Joseph often, and always with a smile. It is astounding how one man’s determination can bring so much hope, strength and ambition to so many others. Joseph has given Kambia reason to believe that what many once thought impossible, is most definitely possible.

Written by Laura Colgan – Corporate Fundraising Officer – Children in Crisis

Robert Benham – Sierra Leone – ‘Inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase

3 Dec

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

Imagine having to move away from your family home, the village you have grown up in, because your community do not accept your child.

For children like Nouhou 'inclusion matters' is more than just a phrase - it is the key to a brighter future

For children like Nouhou ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase – it is the key to a brighter future

When Aminata gave birth to Nouhou, who has cerebral Palsy, she was told he was ‘evil’ and that she must throw him away. Aminata refused. She chose her son instead.

It is the discrimination and lack of understanding that Aminata and Nouhou faced that the International Day of Disabled Persons is trying to overcome. Based around the theme of ‘inclusion matters’, the day is focussing on the gains derived from integrating people with disabilities into society.

Sitting outside Nouhou and Aminata’s home, listening to her story, I can’t imagine how hard her decision must have been but, how she talks about her son, and the warm look in her eyes as she watches over him, I know that she still believes it was the correct one.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata - his protector.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata – his protector.

She has built a life for her son. Nouhou has grown into an inquisitive 6 year old. With the help of his sister, every day he walks to a nearby primary school and is starting to get the education that will enable him to live an active and inclusive life when he grows up.

Sat next to his mum, wearing his bright green uniform, Nouhou eyes us cautiously, slowly leaning in closer to his protector. Nouhou’s natural suspicion is understandable considering the battles he faces to be included in his world.

His father refuses to acknowledge him as one of his own because of his disability and children at his school provoke and agitate him. Even his community, whilst much more understanding than the one he was born into, do not fully accept him – just the Friday before the family was asked to leave the Mosque.

“It is always a challenge, but I have no choice, I will always support my child.”

During my time in Sierra Leone, the barriers facing children with disabilities were striking in their number. I witnessed an absence of understanding around disability, sometimes unsupportive families, schools and homes that are inaccessible to the disabled – all of which contributed to too many children with disabilities being destined to a life of marginalisation and isolation.

Despite the obstacles that children with disability face to be included in their community, every day I was encouraged by the progress I saw being made by Children in Crisis’ partner organisations such as WESOFOD – a local NGO run by a group of inspiring people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities – and by the impact small changes were making to the lives of children like Nouhou.

Sahid's mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

Sahid’s mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

As we were sat talking to Nouhou, we heard a familiar noise coming up the road, Sahid being accompanied home by his friends.

Sahid, who will be moving into the residential rehabilitation centre being constructed by Children in Crisis & WESOFOD, attends the same school as Nouhou and, unable to walk, gets around on a mobility aid.

This simple device is a great example of little things having a huge impact. It enables Sahid to go to school and to achieve an education. It has allowed him to interact with children his own age and to make friends, making sure that the next generation of children treat those with disabilities equally.

It is estimated that worldwide there are one billion people with disabilities, many of whom live on the periphery of their community, marginalised and discriminated against.

This year’s theme, ‘Inclusion matters’, is a strong phrase for an important International Day. It represents a vision of hope, empowerment and equality.

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

For these children ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase; it is the key to a brighter future, one where they have the opportunity to live life on their terms.

Written by: Robert Benham, Trust Fundraising Assistant, Children in Crisis