How A Disable Group  In A Community In Bo Defied The Odds

Dadson A. Musa

Being physically disabled in a country that is grappling with poverty and therefore lacks basic social amenities can be described as double jeopardy. Government policy has not catered too well for them though and their living conditions can best be described as dire.

A manual production zone where fiid is prepared. (Photo by DAdson Musa)

Many of them in Sierra Leone beg and sleep on the streets. They do not have the right wheel chairs, clutches and other mobility equipment. Worst still, a good number of public buildings and educational institutions can still not be easily accessed due to lack of ramps.

Although some efforts have been made to address the problem, but more still needs to be done. It is not all doom and gloom for them as they now have the right to access free higher education and free medical treatments. NGOs are coming on board to help, but it still has not been enough and some of them have not risen to the occasions enough to grab opportunities.

Amidst the hopelessness, a very promising group called Disability Right and Inclusion Matters( DRIMs) is rising up to the occasion and  making the difference. DRIMs was founded in 2007 and has evolved from a movement to a development program. The primary focus of this organization is ” to empower youths with disabilities.” It operates mainly in the southern region; Bo, Moyamba, Pujehun and Bonthe.

But due to limited budget they operate only in Bo , Pujehun and Moyamba and they have been making some impact.

Abdul Sheriff , a disabled person himself is the Director and has some form of education from completing high school to getting higher education. “Our plight as disables is very worrying and government has not done enough to alleviate our situation so I decided to form this organization with help of colleague disables and other well meaning Sierra Leoneans.” 

He continues that they ” are discriminated against which causes psychological problem for them.” So they came up with this group to help their colleagues and themselves. They have an office space which they pay rent for annually. They have sought and received help from partners within and outside Sierra Leone which has made some difference in the lives of some of them. DRIMs has made interventions in key areas especially areas that can enhance their respective capacities and make them independent and self-reliant.

“Realizing that we were perceived with disdain and derogation and our compatriots could not help it , the few educated ones like us decided to come together and form this group that can make the difference.”

They identified six key areas for intervention including;

1. Inclusive Education Program

2. Medical

3. Gender-Based Violence Advocacy

4. Livelihood Programs

5. Empowering Through Skills Training

6. School Ramp Pilot Project

Their methods have been ” bringing in facilitators to train youths in business management and savings ” and    ” appealing to relevant stakeholders to make sure disables get and enjoy their full rights.” At a tailoring shop which the group helped set up with funding sought from UNDP, Mariama Sheriff who’s now a tailor reveals how she has  ” a huge customer base now and the money I get goes towards feeding myself and my children,” adding that she has ” stopped depending on hand- outs .”

Other disabled persons have even gone into blacksmithing and can produce hoes, cutlasses and axes especially when the government’s flagship program is agriculture which resonated well with them. ” The money is now coming in and we can handle a lot of things on our own now.” Their self esteem and respect are beginning to build now and this is what has been the aims and objectives of DRIMs. 

Gari processing is another area that they have been empowered to make a decent living and that has been bringing them income in Bo district. “We’re going to  make progress,” said Abdul Sheriff although a lot still needs to be done as country wide the challenge is still lurking. Salia Koroma who works at the Ministry of Social Welfare , a ministry that oversees the affairs of the disabled said that ” government has lined up so many activities for disabled to make them live decent and independent lives to enhance their self dignities due to intervention by DRIMs.”

Sheriff adds that they ” will continue to inspire and support disable individuals.” And according to him the organization remains ” committed to its mission of promoting rights, Inclusion and independence.”

   The Persons With Disability Act  of Sierra Leone 2011 is a domesticated form of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and article 33 states that state should establish an implementing agency of the convention. So the National Commission for Persons with Disability was established to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, achieve equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities and to provide for other related matters. The 2011 disability act passed by an act of parliament state thus:

– right to free education 

– protection from discrimination in educational institutions 

– courses like sign language and use of braille to be introduced in public educational institutions 

– provision of free medical services 

– compulsory screening at health centers 

– prohibition of denial of employment 

 and protection from discrimination employment.

 The objective of the Act is to ensure the wellbeing of persons with disability. So Abdul Sheriff and his DRIMs organization have worked hard to ensure that their membership are knowledgeable about these provisions in the Act through media engagements. They have not only provided livelihood skills but taken up the right issues with Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, local councils, law enforcement agencies and universities. The interventions of DRIMs , led by Abdul Sheriff has brought some differences. And there are tangible differences in the lives of disables especially in the south of Sierra Leone.

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