Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to join you for this important event to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2017. It is a great honour.
I live in Kambia District, a rural part of Sierra Leone. Polio as a child left me with a physical disability, but it inspired me to found a rights-based, social movement for other people with disabilities. The Welfare Society for the Disabled, known locally as WESOFOD, now has 360 members with disabilities.
We have become more visible in our communities because we tell them again and again: Focus on our abilities and not on our disabilities! WESOFOD is proud to be the partner organisation of Children in Crisis. In Sierra Leone, it’s taking us time to recover from Ebola. Believe it or not, although it was a tough time for everyone living in my country, the Ebola crisis taught us a few things as well. We learnt how important it is to put every last person first in an emergency - including persons with disabilities. We showed our real determination to ‘leave no-one behind’.
However, children with disabilities are still regularly excluded from school because of discrimination, inaccessible buildings, poor learning materials, or untrained teachers.
Without a quality, inclusive education, I ask all of you in this room, how can the aspirations of children with disabilities to have a job in the future ever be realised in Sierra Leone?
I am here to call for new partnerships across sectors to make disability inclusion a reality in my country and across the world! And to give you my five recommendations for achieving solutions to disability inclusion which are:
1. To achieve education rights for every child with a disability in Kambia District, we need to build stronger partnerships between civil society organisations, like WESOFOD, the private sector, and the government. This will help empower the disability movement;
2. We need improved research to plan new education services and to to provide an evidence-base for changes in policy and practice. Ebola showed us how little evidence there is around people with disabilities.
3. We must harness the power of new technology. This will give more opportunities to learn, materials in accessible formats, and more inclusive methodologies;
4. We need more disability champions in communities and in schools who are passionate about achieving disability inclusion at the grassroots.
5. To ensure that education leads to economic empowerment for the children you heard speaking today, we need to plan for future skills development now. We need to work with private sector partners to provide much more Technical and Vocational Education and Training for students with disabilities.
Only when young persons with disabilities in Kambia District have been equipped with new skills, - such as IT, teaching, or carpentry - will we break the negative attitudes towards disability that still prevail in Sierra Leone today. This is my dream.
Finally, to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2017, as we say in Krio, HAW DI BATA DE BIT- NA SO DI DANS DE GO.
As the drum beats, so the dance goes.
All dances need partners. Let’s work together for disability inclusion in Sierra Leone and across the world.