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Regional News of Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Source: Attipoe Kumah Esther, Contributor

How Catholic Missionaries are transforming lives of physically challenged, less privileged in society

Rachael Mawufemor Agbeviade sewing a dress play videoRachael Mawufemor Agbeviade sewing a dress

How Catholic Missionaries are transforming lives of physically challenged, less privileged in society

Her life started on a tragic note even before she could differentiate right from wrong.

Rachael Mawufemor Agbeviade was knocked by a careless driver at the age of 7 at Agbozume, a town in the Volta Region of Ghana.

Life after that was a shattered dream and broken glasses. Mawufemor had one of her legs amputated and had to rely on crutches to be able to move from one place to the other.

She had become physically challenged even before she could figure out what life had in store for her.

At age 15, she had no interest in education because she considered herself a misfit.

She will eventually succumb to pressure from her father to be admitted into the St. Theresa Centre for the Physically Challenged in Abor also in the Volta Region.

The centre is a voluntary and non-profitable Organization that depends on the Catholic Diocese of Keta-Akatsi to cater for the welfare of the physically challenged in the society.

It was built by the late Rev.Fr.Angelo Confalonieri, a Combonian missionary from Italy who worked in favour of the less privileged in the Volta Region.

Through skills development, Mawufemor can today call herself self-reliant and self-employed despite her predicaments.

Thanks to the encouragement of her father and training received from the St. Theresa Centre for the Physically Challenged, Mawufemor has two apprentices who work with her at a dressmaking shop she has managed to open at Abor.

The story of Mawufemor brings to the fore the plights of persons living with disabilities.

Disability is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the impairments in a person's body structure or function.

It is estimated by WHO that over 1 billion people which makes up about 15% of the global population are persons living with various forms of disability. This number is said to be on the increase as a result of the continuous growth of the world's population.

In Ghana, the Ministry of Health estimates the number of disabled persons in the country to be 5million. This figure represents 7-10% of the country’s population and is also not static.

Despite the staggering figures by the Ghana Health Service, only one per cent of the country's health budget is allocated for persons living with disabilities.

Many are of the view that being disabled has to do with only the physical aspect of the human body but that certainly is an ignorant and misguided judgement on the part of some individuals.

Being disabled goes beyond the physical aspect and has the mental part too. The type of physical disability includes; visual impairment thus blindness or low vision, Speech and language disability, Hearing impairment thud deaf or hard hearing, Locomotors disability thus Muscular, Acid attack victims, Dwarfism, Cerebral Palsy, Dystrophy and Leprosy cured person.

Some types of disability not seen by the eyes also includes; Anxiety disorder, Depression, Eating disorder and Bipolar affective disorder among others.

As part of the government's efforts towards managing the issue of disability in Ghana and making life more comfortable for persons with such conditions, "The Persons with Disability’s Act,2006(Act 715) was enacted. This act was passed in June 2006 by parliament and was received with joy by many especially persons living with disabilities (PWDs).

This move feeds into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by United Nations Member States in the year 2015 which are intertwined to end poverty, protect nations and ensure peace and enjoyment and prosperity for every person by the year 2030.

The PWDs Act 2006 (Act 716) is divided into 8 sections making sure that the rights of the people involved are respected, issues of employment of the PWDs are covered, same as their education, transportation, health care as well as issues concerning access to public facilities are covered.

Also, law enforcement agencies have a special arrangement for persons with disability suspected to have committed a certain crime.

Though there were debates concerning the act after it was passed, the coming into force of the Act was applauded by many.

But, for the PWDs, the joy in their hearts could be likened to that of a child who has been bought a new dress for Christmas. 

 As the days turn to weeks, weeks to months and months to years the Act gradually lost its value in society.

This loss of value of the Act can be seen in the Ghanaian society manifests where many social buildings like hospitals, schools and market centres are not disability friendly hence the PWDs are unable to access these facilities with ease.

Despite the past glory, discrimination against persons living with disabilities is on the rise. Many have been laid off from their jobs after developing some form of disability. Others have been denied access to education because of a lack of structures aimed at making life more comfortable for PWDs in learning institutions.

Though concerns of PWDs is largely relegated, efforts by organizations such as the Ghana Federation of Disability (GFD) keep up the fight for the PWDs.

The GFD cater for over 3 million persons with disabilities in Ghana. It assures that the rights of the PWDs in the field of education, employment, health and many more are enforced. It also has an 8 member organization that aids in the disability agenda.

These organizations include; the Ghana Blind Union, Ghana Association of the Deaf, Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled, Ghana Association of Persons with Albinism, Mental Health Society of Ghana and others.

Again, efforts by religious bodies in the fight against discrimination against PWDs and their wellbeing cannot be underestimated.

One of such missionary interventions is one by the Catholic Church. The Church has four centres of Vocational Training, Rehabilitation and Support for persons with physical and intellectual disabilities.

These centres are: St Theresa Centre for the Handicapped(Abor), St Agnes Vocational Training Institute(Weme), Don Guanella Family House for the Intellectually Challenged(Abor) and The Good Samaritan Home - for adolescents with intellectual disabilities(Adidome)

These centres have played an effective role in supplementing the effects of the Government in areas such as economic, physical and social rehabilitation of the physically handicapped and recently the mentally challenged.

Over the years, the St Theresa Centre for the Handicapped, Abor has grown into a centre that is not only welcoming the physically challenged but also assisting in their rehabilitation through technical and vocational skills as well as helping to integrate them fully into the working life and the communities in which they live.

It is mind-blowing to know that between 1991 and 2010, a total of 406 handicapped students enrolled by the Centre have graduated with more than 250 of them starting their own businesses.

The centre offers training in Dressmaking, Tailoring, Radio and Television Electronics Servicing, ICT, Leatherworks, and Printing.

These programmes which last for three years prepare Prospective trainees for National Vocational Training Institute(NVTI) Grade I and Grade II Certificates and for the Certificate of competency examination conducted by the Department of Social Welfare.

The services and courses of the Centre are beneficial to two groups of people thus Disabled persons, leavers who are boarded at the Centre and able-bodied day students most of which are JSS leavers from and around Abor. (Not more than 2/3 of the total of the students).

Despite the gains and the support by the Catholic Diocese of Keta-Akatsi the Centre faces challenges in the areas of feeding, infrastructure and equipment.

"The school is facing a lot of challenges in terms of infrastructure, equipments and feeding”, Vice Principal of the Centre, Edward Aklagono, stated.

For his part, the Principal, of the Centre, Rev.Fr.Emmanual Johnson, SC outlined the ongoing and future plans of the school thus putting up more buildings in order to upgrade the Centre in the future.

He expressed appreciation to persons who have contributed to the growth of the Centre 

"To be able to meet our expectations in the future, I like to appeal to both individuals and the government to have St. Theresa in mind in terms of its lacks. For eaxmple, we have just begun a project to build a six classroom block for the school in order to be able to expand and welcome more students," Fr. Johnson said.

"We are also projecting building a four-unit dormitory block for the school to enable us to admit more students. This is because, in some years, we had to close admissions due to the lack of infrastructure”, he added.

Fr. Johnson again, made an appeal for the teachers of the school to get on the payroll of the government to reduce the burden on the Centre to help in its development.

"We are appealing for the possibility of including our staff in the government payroll because at the moment, we have many of our staff that are paid by the school and this affects the development of the school".

 Being alive is not for one's self alone but to make great impacts in the lives of others who have not been fortunate to have it all or who one way and the other find themselves in situations that is no fault of theirs. With this, I doubt there is any other thing that is more fulfilling in life other than impacting positively in the lives of others.

It will not be bad for us all to join hands with those who have started such great works in our societies in the little way possible in cash or kind like that of the Catholic Missionaries for a better society.

In that way, love will continue to grow among us and society will be a peaceful and joyous place for all to live in regardless of one's condition.

Watch the story of St. Theresa below