WHEN I got the email from the executive director of FAECARE Foundation, Ndifreke Andrew-Essien inviting me to the foundation’s Hope Again Initiative (HAI) graduation seminar, I knew I had to cancel all engagements to attend the occasion on Friday, September 30, 2016.
Ndifreke’s love for people with disabilities is infectious. FAECARE Foundation targets vulnerable groups in society and the less privileged (orphans and vulnerable children, persons with disabilities, youths,) with the vision of adding value to the life of these groups.
It is no wonder that Ndifreke is a Mandela Washington Fellow 2014 (President Barak Obama’s Flagship and Inaugural Young African Leaders Initiative), and that she was also part of the consult with young African girls on girls’ education with the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.
When I saw so many women with different forms of disability, tears came to my eyes but I had to be strong. What was needed was not tears or pity but compassion.
When I had gathered my frame, I remembered Stevie Wills’ speech-mark, “Inclusion isn’t driven by duty or pity, but by the valuing of people.”
The efforts of Ndifreke and many like her in transforming the lives of people with disabilities, need not be shouldered alone by them but must be in partnership with government.
It is time Nigeria began to tear down the shameful walls of exclusion suffered by people with disability and promote an inclusive society.
Handling of disability issues should move away from welfare-only for the disabled, to enabling, empowering and protecting the rights of the disabled. After all – we are differently able.
As important as a disability law is for raising disability awareness and changing attitudes towards disability sufferers, more is needed.
But for Ndifreke Andrew-Essien’s strong will she might not have been where she is today. In 2002 as a medical student in one of Nigeria’s universities, she was involved in a major accident which resulted in Spinal Cord Injury and Paraplegia with the need to use a mobility aid: a wheelchair. Surprisingly, after her recovery, her university told her she couldn’t continue with her medical studies as there were no facilities for people with movement impairment. How saddening.
She returned to school – against all odds – to earn a university degree (Physiology) in University of Port Harcourt BSc (2008), MSc (2014)
“The Hope Again Initiative,”was put together to empower the disabled girl/woman through community-based vocational training and mentoring. Nineteen beneficiaries from Rivers State and Akwa Ibom State graduated (hair dressing, fashion designing, bead making, baking, children’s clothing, computer appreciation) and were presented with equipment (sewing machines, hair dryers, laptops, cookers with gas oven, etc) to help them in their chosen business area. It wasn’t a free lunch. The beneficiaries were chosen because they were committed to change and relied on their own efforts to go through the tortuous training that led to self-reliance.
People of all classes should have the capacity to build a better future for themselves, but this wouldn’t be possible if they do not have the opportunity to do so. So many people have the desire to thrive, but lack the resources to do so.
HOPE keeps people alive and when Hope meets Opportunity, anything is possible.
The Nigeria of our dream must be one where people and government rally around a cause in kinship. Part of this kinship is to promote an inclusive society.
Remember the lost Black and White Keys of Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey? “If you play only the white notes on a piano you get only sharps; if only the black keys you get flats; but if you play the two together you get harmony and beautiful music”
Ndifreke is on a mission to help less privileged women in society. It was Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey who said that, “The surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family”
And like Ndifreke (popularly called Freky,) I have chosen to commit to the disabled woman in our society to build her, equip her and empower her.
You can also be a disability advocate by being “disability-friendly.” You can show a little kindness to reduce the affect of disability and to help someone rise above their disability. You can help provide access to the disabled because disability is not a barrier.
Isn’t it true that there is ability in disabilty?
Even though Ndifreke Andrew-Essien is disabled, she is able (www.faecarefoundation.org),
You are human only if you care.