Tuesday 3rd December, 2019 marked the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. This is a story of determination and generosity. In May 2018, Eleanor Massah Abdulai met Louise Twining-Ward, World Bank staff member, while walking on Lumley beach. At the age of 10 years, Eleanor lost her right leg when she accidentally stepped on an unexploded land mine as she and her parents were fleeing from rebel forces who had just attacked the diamond mining town of Tongo in the Kenema District. For three weeks she had no medical assistance. “The lower part of my right leg was completely ripped off. My family and I were devastated. My mother used traditional herbs to tend to my injury. My father carried me on his back and walked through the jungle for over five miles; no food, no water and no shower,” she explains. Since then, Eleanor had been on crutches, but she never gave up the hope that she would one day walk again. When Louise met Eleanor, she was in Sierra Leone on a World Bank mission. “I saw a group of people playing soccer on crutches and immediately I was very interested. And I saw this one woman sitting on the side, she wasn’t included. We ended up exchanging numbers and we kept in contact,” she says. Since then Louise has encouraged and supported Eleanor’s work to empower people living with disabilities in Sierra Leone (demsl.org) by sourcing used crutches, soccer equipment and clothes and shipping them to Freetown. Nine months later, Eleanor was awarded a grant from the New York based organization ASPIRE and Prosthetics in Motion.
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How did all this happen? Another chance beach meeting, this time with an amputee triathlete, Billy Davies on Brooklyn Beach, connected Eleanor to ASPIRE, a non-profit that works to help amputees in need and Prosthetics in Motion, a company making high tech prosthetics in Manhattan. Billy decided to help Eleanor get access to the care he had received. Louise and her husband Robert provided accommodation in her home in Brooklyn. On this day (December 3, 2019), Eleanor walked again for the first time in 21 years since she lost her leg. “Today being the global day for disabled people, I’m ready to go live to talk about things I’ve been through,” she says. “A lot of people have been messaging me saying: ‘you’ve been inspiring us with the things you do’. So, today is the opportunity to tell them my story; and help kids who are living what I’ve been through.” She continues: “Today is one of my happiest days, seeing myself on International Day for Persons with Disabilities standing on two legs. I haven’t slept for two nights because of the excitement. I know what it feels like being on crutches for so many years, especially in a challenging society like ours.” Eleanor is working on setting up an orphanage to give life to children facing similar situation as hers. “We are trying to get them a home because some of them are left on the street to care for themselves. And they are exposed to early pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and other vices.” She is also advocating for ramps in schools and provide school supplies to those in need. “Education is critical,” she says, “just because you have a disability does not mean you cannot be a productive member of society. People with disabilities often have special talents and needs to be included in the education system.” Louise’s idea is to upskill Sierra Leonean firms to design and build prosthetics for those in need. “Not every disabled person in Sierra Leone can have the opportunity to go to New York and have a prosthetic leg fitted. Hopefully, we can have a technology transfer,” she says. Eleanor’s story is helping to highlight some of the important interventions World Bank staff coming on missions are making to impact the lives of local people outside their official Bank engagements. On Tuesday, the World Bank Sierra Leone Country Office also celebrated the International Day for Persons with Disabilities and reiterated the World Bank Group’s 10 Commitments for enhancing global action for disability-inclusive development (visit: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability#1). “To the World Bank Group, disability is a development challenge, not a charity issue,” said Dr. Gayle Martin, Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “In delivering on our 10 Commitments on Disability Inclusion, we’ll step up efforts across our portfolio. Let’s hold all stakeholders accountable on this issue.”
By Moses A. Kargbo
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