Liberia: Nuod Celebrates Global 'Blind People's Guide Stick' Day -

Their collective human right-related 'value' appeared embedded in the only Christian song--titled "More Than Gold"--by Nigerian musician Judith Kanayo--that was rolling out of a musical set under the command of Reuben Gongar (hired) Another stanza of the song goes, "Jesus is more than Gold".

The program owners began filing into the venue at 8am. Most were being led by kids (escorts); others walking alone, using a metal stick (Cane) as a guide to give information about movement-hindering object in the way.

They were here for the celebration of the 2020's edition of the White Cane Day, organized by the National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD) NUOD is an independent advocacy and capacity building organization for Liberia's Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) who are not directly covered under the Liberian Government's welfare program being run through the Group of 77 (G-77), which is directly under the Office of the Vice President of Liberia. NUOD works through DPOs (Disabled People's Organizations), independent groupings of PWDs in Liberia's 15 Counties.

The chosen local theme was: Advancing the Human Rights and Social Inclusion for Visually Impaired/Blind People in the 21st Century under the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development"

For the 2020's White Cane Day celebration, NUOD got support from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), The Carter Center, Sight Savers International, National Commission on Disabilities, and the National Lottery of Liberia.

The celebration time was the 14th and 15th of October; the venue being the worship service hall of the Bridge Way Seventh-Day Adventist Church, located on Tubman Street, Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

The program was for visually impaired persons, but other disabled persons were present.

"We included the other disabled people in this year's celebration based on their being service providers in the Liberian Disability Community, like those with visual impairment. We can't do it along," Madam Naomi B. Harris (physically challenged) replied to my inquiry on the matter.

During registration for the visual impairment section, NUOD's Finance Officer, Evelyn Deh, came under verbal attacks from some of the waiting-persons who felt she was "too slow with the process."

"I'm the only person doing this, so please bear it. Besides, this process is the channel for your transportation money, so I'm careful to prevent registering the wrong person," Finance Officer Evelyn replied to the complaints.

"I will consume ten plates of the food," a male visually impaired participant joked about the breakfast: Donough and spaghetti.

Around 11am, the program's official Master of Ceremony, Lahai Gotolo (visually impaired) announced the start of the main business of Day One.

Mr. Daniel N.O. Dagbe, NUOD's Vice President for Operations, opened the talking section with his portion titled "The Purpose of the Program".

"We have gathered here to discuss how we can advance social inclusion for all persons with disabilities in Liberia," Mr. Dagbe said.

On "The Importance of the White Cane in the 21st Century", Rev. Wilfred Z. Gewon, visually impaired, Assistant Pastor of the A.M.E. Empowerment Church, in Monrovia, traced manufacture of the blind man's guide stick to an American State, Illinois, in 1922.

"In 1944, the standardized White Cane was produced," he announced, reading from a Braille.

He mentioned U.S. President Lyndon Johnson as the most all-time promoter of the White Cane, among World's Leaders.

He advised his visually colleagues to use modern technologies designed exclusively for visually impaired persons, or a guide dog.

However, he said, any visually person who keeps his or her White Cane from the view of drivers in the traffic in a public area should take responsibility for any mishap caused by the operator of the moving car. "In a public area, some visually impaired person keeps their Cane in their bag," he disclosed.

"Problems facing visually impaired people in Liberia are complicated and are age-old issues," declared NUOD's Vice President Peter B.K. Flomo, speaking on the topic "The Challenges PWDs in Liberia Face, especially People with Visual Impairment", being the first presentation of the first Panel of Discussion.

He warned against "silence" by PWDs, which, he added, would be misunderstood by non-PWDs as "endorsement of violation" by the disabled people.

NUOD's president, Naomi B. Harris, took up the next presentation titled "Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities"

"Poverty of the victim or the victim's family undermines justice for the victim of sexual or gender-based violence, especially where the victim or the victim's family accepts apology and money from the victimizer to drop the case," Madam Harris said.

The next presentation, "The UN Perspective of the CRPD", reserved for an official of the United Nations Development Project, was skipped because the presenter was absent.

"The Government of Liberia is committed to working with NUOD on solving problems confronting persons with disabilities in Liberia, through the Government's Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development," declared Madam Ricardia Dennis (physically challenged), Executive Director of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), on the next presentation titled "What are the Strategies and Implementation Plans of the UNCRPD"

Her presentation dwelled on Articles 31, 32 and 33 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

"The Disability Community should begin paying homage to members who have made significant and outstanding contributions to the Community and the Nation in general, like Mr. Beyan Kota," she advised.

During a brief interview by me, the NCD's ED said the "outstanding contribution" by Mr. Beyan Kota (president of the Christian Association of the Blind) was his leading a group of visually impaired persons into the streets, in 2017, where each person showed his or her White Cane to the face of a driver of a car.

"This was Mr. Kota's wisdom of sensitizing the car riders on the right of the visually impaired on the public road," she responded to my question.

During the listeners' participation segment, Ms. Christine Mamey Vanjah (visually impaired) lambasted her blind colleagues on always begging and complaining to the Government for their survival.

"We, blind people, should use other parts of our body to get our needs and wants, instead of always begging on the street or complaining to the Government. I'm using my hands to bake various kinds of bread and I'm making wedding cakes on the knowledge I acquired few years ago," the blind lady advised with a personal story.

The Day's section concluded with Recommendations on solutions to problems confronting the Disability Community. The audience was divided into four lettered groups, each group to come out with a list of "ways forward"

The hearing impaired participants got the voice-channeled discussions from three Sign Language Interpreters: Joshua C.N. Birr, Andrew J. Tugbeh and Upton Birr Uking.

The main celebration day (October 15) started with sharing of Commemorative T-shirts, followed by a march--that lasted close to two hours--to the Buchanan City Hall, venue of the Celebration proper. NUOD's female Office Assistant, Sowoe Johnson; and a male member, Christian Varney, assisted with holding the celebration banner.

A hired Brass Band--named "Grand Bassa Marching Band" (founded in 1963)--accompanied the throng of disabled persons toward the chosen venue. Mr. Roland Bealded, age 48, was leader of the Band.

The Buchanan Detachment of the Liberia National Police (LNP) provided support with control of vehicular traffic through officers Stephen B. Kpoe, Younis B. Togbah and Uriah Zokruah.

The marchers were being energized with string of Christian songs from the trumpet of the accompanying Brass Band. Jerry S. Falla, NUOD's Youth Chairman of Grand Bassa, continuously rocked in his hand-pedaled wheel chair to the melodies from the Band. Two of the songs were "I Surrender" and "Master Jesus is in Control"

However, few persons were complaining about the sun's heat against their bodies, while others were grumbling about pains in their bodies from the long walk and continuous turning of wheel of their mobility vehicle (wheelchair)

When inside the Buchanan City Hall was full, the program's MC Lahai Gotolo announced the start of the program.

"Nobody begs for disability, so we should always show love to our fellow human being with disability," advised Mr. Franklin Zondo, Administrative Assistant of Buchanan City Mayor Moses D. Hayes, representing his absent boss for the Welcome Remarks.

Grand Bassa County's most popular Hip-Hop musician, Prince T. Zeon (stage name: "T. Crack"), was invited to the stage and he electrified the audience with his nationally known (Tourism) song, "Sunset Beach", that talks about the beauty of a beach in Buchanan; and another one titled "Who's Your Friend?"

Mr. Heylove Mark, NUOD's Treasurer, read out the recommendations from Day One's discussions. One was telling the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government quickly pass into Law the amended Disability Act.

Mr. William Yarsiah (visually impaired), Executive Director of the African Youth With Disability Network, spoke on the topic "Significance of the White Cane", which was almost a duplicate of the presentation by Rev. Gewon on Day One.

On the Remarks segment for NUOD's partner, the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) was absent; The Carter Center was represented by Mr. Bill S. Jallah, a Liberian member of the Cultivation For Users' Hope.

Mr. Emmanuel Kanneh, Program Director of Sight Savers, appealed for the economic empowerment of visually impaired (Liberians) for them to contribute to the development of their Country. "For example, a sighted person can employ visually impaired persons in a pure water manufacturing company to be responsible for counting the number of sachets going into a sac," he suggested.

The negative mind-set of most complete-sight leaders against visually impaired persons is the major barriers to turning their nation-building dreams into reality, said Mr. Luther Sanger Mendin, Communication and Program Support Officer of Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO), an Italian disabled people's empowerment Organization working with NUOD.

"Our making private and public buildings accessible for visually impaired persons by creating rams in these places will alleviate the pains they're experiencing here," Mr. Mendin suggested.

The program's Keynote Speaker, former Foreign Minister, Gbezohngar Findley, told the program's organizer he was the appropriate person for the role given him, due to his background on Disability matters in Liberia.

"The first Disability Law of our Country passed through my hand as President of the Senate," added the Aspirant for Grand Bassa County in Liberia's Mid-Term Senatorial Election set for December 8, 2020.

Raising a White Cane, he assured the Disability Community that, when he is the Senate, he will sponsor a Disability Bill that will compel Government's Ministries and Agencies to contribute to acquisition of University Education for PWDs.

"Use your talents or skills to excel to the top of your dreamed career, like your colleagues in other countries have done in Science, Engineering, Literature, and other profession," he challenged his hosts.

The Liberia's community of visually impaired persons is the worst-hit of the Country's vulnerable population.

Over 80% of the members survive on begging on the street, many being escorted by their children who should be in school.

The present of the global pandemic, Coronavirus (COVID-19) has increased the level of their suffering. Most of the business centers or people that had been serving as regular sources of livelihoods can no longer help due to financial handicap from COVID-19.

They have not got much of the Liberian Government's attention on the Government's free food gifts, especially for "most vulnerable groups", to alleviate the economic sufferings created by impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, and some have expressed their free food-related grievances. Two examples: In June, members of United Blind Association of Liberia rejected eight (8) bags of rice (25 kilograms) from the Government as part of the COVID-19 "Stimulus Package".

On Thursday, September 17, 2020, members of the Hope For God Association of the Blind stormed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs--where President George Manneh Weah's official Office now is--and complained about being left out of the national food distribution, done through the World Food Programme of the United Nations

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