On The Road Blog
Lagos, Nigeria: An Encounter with the Inspiring Three
- By Emmanuel Otoo on January 26th, 2015
- Category: Blog, Featured, Featured Blog, Home, Sub-Saharan Africa
Going to Naija (a slang term for Nigeria) has always been exciting for me because I get the chance to practice my pidgin English (a lingua franca used across Nigeria); watch the latest Nollywood movies—and, if lucky, meet some of the famous stars—and eat my favorite Nigerian dishes, such as eba, asaro, moi moi, egusi, and ogbono.
Sometimes referred to as the Giant of Africa, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous in the world. It has a literacy rate of 61.3 percent and is considered the largest economy in Africa. It has also made great strides in technological development. Nigeria and most other countries in Africa have improved significantly in many areas to embrace growth, advancement, and positive change.
During my recent trip to Naija to visit Global Fund for Children grantee partners, I observed inspiring and striking progress. I saw a shift from the traditional physical market to more e-commerce. Banking has greatly improved and has become very sophisticated. I was especially impressed by the transformations in communications: currently, there are over 100 million mobile phone subscribers in Nigeria.
Those of you who have spent time in Lagos may know how frustrating vehicular traffic can be in the city. But you know what? I was able to completely ignore the irritation of the traffic by feasting my eyes on some of the most modern, high-tech vehicles on the roads of Lagos. I felt so proud to be African, seeing all these significant and positive shifts and developments.
The turning point for me, however, was when I visited Friends of the Disabled (FOTD) and met Anthonia, Opeyemi, and Florence. These three inspiring adolescents and many others whom I met at FOTD in Lagos have various disabilities. Anthonia uses crutches, Opeyemi uses a wheelchair, and Florence has hearing and speech impairments.
A disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. The World Health Organization estimates that about 600 million people live with disabilities worldwide, and the number is increasing. Of this total, 80 percent live in low-income countries. Most are poor and have limited or no access to basic services, including rehabilitation facilities.
Anthonia was not born disabled. She started walking when she was 18 months old. Just after she started walking, she showed symptoms of a febrile illness, suspected to be malaria, which led to her being taken to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment. With tear-filled eyes, Anthonia told me that her mother informed her that she became paralyzed after receiving a vaccine at the hospital, and she has not been able to walk since. She started primary school at age 10 but encountered several challenges, including being ridiculed at school and suffering excruciating pain when walking to and from school on crutches.
After experiencing stigmatization, abuse, exclusion, low self-esteem, and neglect for many years, Anthonia was finally discovered and supported by FOTD and is now a fashion designer. She has become amazingly skilled in making beads and jewelry, and her self-esteem has greatly improved. She also studied sign language to enable her to assist children with hearing impairments, and she has great skills in fish farming and fish processing. Anthonia said to me, “I have life because of FOTD, and I am thankful and smiling now and always.”
Like Anthonia, Opeyemi was born without a disability, but she became crippled a week after she turned 10. After experiencing marginalization and stigmatization for several years, which left her with no hope, she met FOTD. FOTD helped her to get a wheelchair and obtain medical assistance, and provided counseling services to her and her family. Her family was also sensitized about how to support and encourage her. With FOTD’s support, Opeyemi has been trained in tailoring and fashion design, and she is doing very well. “I was alive but dead before meeting FOTD,” she told me. “They gave me back my life and helped me know and value myself and taught me how to earn a living, and now I can help others.”
The third beneficiary I met at FOTD was Florence, who was born deaf. She found comfort, friends, and a reason to live when she met FOTD after several years of a very challenging life. “I now have a family that loves me for who I am, respect me, and are ready to help me achieve all my dreams. They believed in me and I now believe in myself. They helped me to be able to help others. I am grateful I met FOTD because they taught me to love myself and now everyone loves me and that makes me happy.” These are the words of Florence.
The stories of these three enthusiastic young ladies confirmed how disabled persons are often marginalized by family members and face serious challenges as a result of their disabilities. Most have no access to education, health services, employment, or rehabilitation. The majority of them feel hopeless and experience hardships as a result of social, cultural, and economic prejudices, stigmatization, and often, abuse and violence. I believe the situation in Nigeria follows the trend in many societies, where significant development and remarkable progress have been achieved in almost at all areas, with the exception of how vulnerable children living with disabilities are treated.
The stories of these three young people and many others that I heard during my visit to FOTD reflect society’s negative perceptions and attitudes toward children with disabilities. Even families tend to be embarrassed about having children with disabilities. As a result, most of these children are maltreated, and in some cases they are physically, mentally, and sexually abused.
Children living with disabilities in Africa and different parts of the world go through difficult experiences on a daily basis. But I was inspired—and got my smiles back—because of what a few organizations like FOTD are doing: developing and implementing sustainable initiatives to ensure that the issue of disability is well understood by all; working hard to improve people’s attitudes; bringing stakeholders together to achieve a more inclusive society and address stigmatization; and ensuring that children living with disabilities are integrated into society and live functional lives.
This is where The Global Fund for Children (GFC) comes in to support community-based organizations that have strong local knowledge and the passion to make a sustainable, positive difference in the lives of vulnerable and marginalized children. GFC supports a number of organizations in Africa. Our strength lies in scouting for organizations that are doing great work but are off the radar of most international nongovernmental organizations.
We support our grassroots partners with small grants and nonfinancial services to enable them to grow and reach more vulnerable children. We strengthen these organizations to help them become sustainable, improve the quality of their programs, enhance their visibility, and build strategic networks relevant for their growth. In addition, we connect our partners to opportunities, people, and resources to contribute to their growth, and we connect them to appropriate learning opportunities that give them a competitive advantage and help them become sustainable.
One of the organizations GFC supports in Nigeria is FOTD, which provides access to educational opportunities for marginalized and vulnerable children with disabilities and offers vocational training and livelihood support for disabled youth.
FOTD also works to eliminate societal biases, stigmatization, and prejudice against disabled children and youth. FOTD has well-rooted community and school outreach programs that offer sensitization activities on disabilities, and the organization also advocates for employment and empowerment opportunities for disabled youth with local businesses.
As part of its efforts to promote social inclusion and address stigmatization, FOTD works with a few primary schools in Lagos to use and teach sign language. The goal of FOTD is to significantly contribute to addressing the exclusion of children with disabilities and to work with families, other community-based organizations, and key stakeholders, such as government and private institutions, to improve society’s attitudes toward children living with disabilities.
It’s your time to act. You can start by developing a more positive attitude toward children living with disabilities, encouraging others to do the same, and joining GFC to strengthen grassroots organizations that support children with disabilities and work to promote a more inclusive society.