Liberia Gets 1st Center For People With Intellectual Disabilities

By: R. Joyclyn Wea

Monrovia-Jan-18-TNR: Youth & Sports Minister D. Zeogar Wilson is urging the incoming administration of Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai through the 55th Legislature to emphasize the issue of ‘Down Syndrome’ or those with intellectual disabilities in Liberia’s budget.

“It is sad that our country doesn’t take this population seriously. “I pray and hope that what we didn’t do in our government the next government can make enough budgetary appropriation to the Ministry of Gender budget line that focuses on this so that they can provide the needed services to this population,” Minister Wilson said.

The announcement was made during the official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony of ‘My Heart’s Appeal Center,’ which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“For more of the 18 years that I lived in the United States, I worked with this population. I know what it is to take care of this population, to take care of this population is difficult and many parents would not want to get involve with their kids, but I am glad that the parents are involved,” he added.

Wilson, who claimed to be enthusiastic about this group, praised the personnel for their outstanding work and chastised those who disparaged others for what he described as a ‘pupu cleaning job.’

According to him, this is the sector in which most Liberians in America work and it is not a puppy job as many believe. “These people need help, so, don’t look down on your friends because of the work they do, because what you do is what puts food on your table and pays your bills,” he emphasized.

My Heart Appeal (MHA) is a non-profit organization adopted as a charity by the Grand Lodge of Masons Liberia. The charity opened its doors to individuals with Down Syndrome and or individuals with intellectual disabilities in 2011 when its Executive Director, Lovetie Major came to Liberia in search of these individuals with special needs.

The goal was to make it easier to provide quality training and career opportunities for disabled teenagers and adults in West Africa.

The charity’s key goals include creating a safe campus in Liberia for teens and adults with intellectual disabilities to train, work, and be productive, educating the public about the many skills and capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities, and assisting with the cost of furthering the education of the mind, moderately disabled teens and adults in West Africa.

Since 2011, the home has been a haven for these individuals, caring for them and giving them a sense of belonging.      

“My daughter had always wanted to go to school like normal children and MHA to make that happen,” Mary Gessior said. Gessior’s daughter is one of the program’s oldest students. She stated, “At 26 years old, my daughter was unable to accomplish anything on her own, which affected me. I had to put my company on hold to care for her, her friends teased her, and she was even turned down by other schools until one day sis. Lovetie came into our town and accepted her into the program, and there has been a significant change,” she said.

Gessior’s daughter is not the only child benefiting from the program; over the past 14 years, MHA has enrolled 150 children with comparable illnesses for free.

“My son was born in 2012 but he does things that other Down syndrome children cannot do and that is because of this organization,” Samuel Benedict Yorwue, father of a 13-year-old boy in the program averred.

He stated that it is disheartening to learn that there is no program at the Ministry of Education for children with disabilities, asking, “We have disability institutions, but how is the ministry assisting those institutions?”

The charity is run on five pillars. A vocational training hub, an early childhood development program for 5-7 years, a special aid program, commercial hub are currently operational. In a completed 15-room facility that houses the youngsters.

MHA had been able to get 10 acres on the Robertsfield highway, where it planned to develop a leisure, teacher training, and residential hub for children in the program to live safely for the rest of their lives.

“I don’t have a daughter but I have a sister with special needs; I take time off to do what I am doing for our children what if I am not around what happens to our children,” Madam LovetieMajor, Executive Director of the charity wondered.

However, there is a significant hindrance to the MHA work. Facilitating the children’s moments is a significant task for the institution and facility daily, and they are asking for the cooperation of the government, people, embassies, and other interested parties.

“We chatter taxi every day to bring the children from their home here and take them back and take them back it’s a tough one,” Anthony Dozine, MHA board member said.

He continues, “We want to start working on purchasing a bus for the kids where we can have them assigned in different locations across Montserrado to bring and take the kids back because they cannot get here like regular students.”

Dozine emphasized the Grand Lodge’s dedication to the institution, saying, “When you give your money through this kind of initiatives and come to see something like this, you feel happy and want to do more,” she added.  

At the same time, the parents of the children joined the HMA family in rallying the support of good people to come forward with help. “The things these people go through are not easy. We need light, vehicles, and food items and so, we are appealing to the government and other people that have the hand to intervene so our children can learn.”

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