Balu stops by the town car park every so often to meet with her friend Jeneba. On this visit, Balu talks about her work challenges and future plans. Then she and Jeneba speak of their difficulties as Sierra Leonean women with physical disabilities. They keep each other company as the mid-afternoon turns into early evening.
My father comes from Jamma village and my mother from Bauya village. They moved to the nearby town and that’s where I was born. I lived here my whole life. These days I do hairdressing and sell biscuits or sweets outside of my home. I wanted to dress hair because I’m not able to stand on my own. I wanted a business where I could stay sitting.
Business has been slow because few women stop by or they have no money when they do. Sometimes I run out of materials in the middle of braiding. I can’t afford to buy chairs or places to sit down. Money isn’t there to upgrade the place or pay a carpenter to build benches for me. Instead I sit down on the kaki (veranda wall) and put lappa on the ground so women can sit down. This year I want to do better.
I met Jeneba at her tailor shop sometime in 2016. We talked and I asked if she wanted to be my friend. She asked me back and we agreed. I want a building like hers. Inside I would have proper chairs and benches to sit on. Then women could relax in front of me as I dress their hair. I’m confident I can find help from my town’s Disabled Women Action Group (DWAG) because my friend Jeneba runs it. The group could help me find an organization to support my business.
Jeneba has been sitting quietly next to her friend, listening and nodding. She adds that Balu must make sustained efforts to achieve the success she wants. Jeneba takes out her cell phone and asks for Balu’s phone number. She promises to call her next week to remind her of DWAG’s meetings on the last Saturday of every month. Jeneba makes a test call and asks Balu to save the new number as a contact. Afterwards, Jeneba talks of issues affecting Sierra Leoneans with disabilities.
Jeneba: In our town, as soon as a landlord knows you have a disability, they will try to drive you out of their place. The Sierra Leone government should help us with better shelters. The current ones only exist for amputees and not for other physically disabled people. This is DWAG’s advocacy mission for 2019.
Balu: I agree. My housing situation is not fine. Every time I rent a place they raise the rent after a few months to drive me out. Then they reduce the price to rent to an able person. The landlord fears I will not bring good money because of my disability. This happened to me several times already.
Jeneba and Balu send a shared message to Sierra Leoneans living with any disability.
Both: Let us continue to do small things to support ourselves. Let us ask the government to support us with training centers so we can learn trades like tailoring, hair dressing, blacksmithing, catering, and even journalism. Finally let us appeal to the government to make public buses better for physically disabled persons. For now there is no way to enter them on our own. Thank you.