Youyi Building Car Park, Freetown, Thursday 9 December 2021 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has launched the Socio-economic Empowerment Project for Persons living with Disabilities, PwDs, unveiled the accessibility audit report and called for a barrier-free environment for the vulnerable.
Speaking on behalf of the PwDs, Mr Eku Scotland, said disability issues across the country were of serious concern because affected persons were the most vulnerable and marginalised in their localities, adding that the livelihood project would reduce poverty and inequality.
“This project will generate employment among poor households by moving poor households into sustainable economic stability. The organisation has established skills training centers across the country but more needed to be done to help PWDs realise their potentials in society,” he said.
“On behalf of persons with impairment, I want to use this opportunity to thank you and your government for the package for PWD. Had it not been for your intervention, livelihood would have been difficult for us during the lockdowns of the Coronavirus,” he concluded.
United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, commended the government, especially the Ministry of Social Welfare and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities for their commitment to addressing disability inclusion issues and for organising the event.
He noted that most persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone tend to be unseen, unheard, uncounted and unrepresented and that they faced discrimination and barriers in many spheres and stages of life, adding that in their day-to-day lives persons with disabilities were often excluded from access to the physical environment, information and social networks.
The UN chief disclosed that the launch of the livelihood project was part of the United Nations Development Programme’s support to the Ministry of Social Welfare with life skills and start-up kits for economic empowerment and for combatting street begging among persons with disabilities, adding that they had also provided start-up kits like rickshaws, black smithery, tailoring and bead making items for the economic empowerment of PwDs.
“His Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, the UN in Sierra Leone targets economically excluded and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, through an integrated approach that focuses on fostering an enabling legal, policy and social environment for effective service delivery,” he assured.
Minister of Social Welfare, Baindu Dassama, said it was important for authorities to listen to the concerns of people living with disabilities because they were the most neglected, and thanked the leadership of President Bio for his concerns with the PwDs since he assumed office in 2018.
In his statement, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio said the launch of the livelihood project was a sign of his government’s preparedness to address street begging among persons with disabilities and to improve the country’s human rights credentials by empowering vulnerable groups in the country.
He added that the launch of the accessibility audit report would also encourage stakeholders to support the government in building a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities, saying that the Persons with Disability Act 2011 provided for a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities.
“As part of the process of reducing vulnerability and tackling the menace of street begging among persons with disabilities, the Ministry of Social Welfare is working on this economic empowerment programme with the aim of building the capacity of persons with disabilities through skills training, provision of start-up kits, provision of reintegration package, provision of social safety net in the form of cash transfer among others to end street begging among persons with disabilities.
“The skills will include welding, tailoring, hairdressing, information and communication technology, carving, beadwork, gara tie-dying and tricycle riding,” he noted.
President Julius Maada Bio thanked international and local partners for their support, saying that his government was determined to end all forms of stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
He cited the relevance of the radical inclusion in the Free Quality School Education, special needs teachers and learners and the provision of assistive devices and learning materials so that nobody would be denied access to education.
“This livelihood project will support persons with disabilities for economic empowerment and self-reliance. On that note, let me use this opportunity to launch the Socio-economic Empowerment for Persons with Disability. I thank you all,” he concluded.
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