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.

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 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’ 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

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 (with me far right)

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?’

Read more

Blog post
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.
A home and treatment centre for abandoned disabled children.
So that no classroom is out of reach.