Jeneba Williams meets with friends at her tailor shop to make lunch. They prepare egg sandwiches, individually wrap them in napkins, and place them in a large rubber basket next to bananas. Afterwards they put soft drinks and water packets into a separate bucket. Williams and her friends carry everything a short distance away to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, where an important meeting will start soon.
Today’s meeting has special significance for Williams—she’s the newly elected district chairwoman for the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), Moyamba. She prepared for this special day by sending formal invitation letters to community stakeholders and government representatives. She informed them of SLUDI’s newfound presence in the district and announced the outcome of its democratic election. Williams also asked invitees for their presence, support, and input to ensure the organization’s success.
Stakeholders slowly begin to reach the Ministry of Social Welfare. They sign their names on the attendance list and wait in the parlor for the other invitees. Soon they agree to move into the conference room and sit around a large table. Some browse on their phones while others share the past week’s frustrations and successes. The seats around the table eventually fill with attendees and the meeting is called to order. After opening prayers and quick self-introductions, Williams stands to deliver an opening statement. She highlights the need for “collective responsibility” in the community. She emphasizes that only this can help SLUDI achieve its mission.
The various stakeholders then share their remarks. John Musa, District Council representative, addresses the room and expresses his support for people with special needs. He wants them to have the proper chances to succeed.
Roland B. Martin, a representative from the Ministry of Social Welfare, gives his compliments to Williams for her success in the fair and peaceful election. He remarks that only together would the attendees succeed in dispelling negative views of people with special needs. Martin recalls the Nigerian novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. In the book, stigma towards twins led to their mistreatment and death. Martin uses the example to advise against the mistreatment of people with special needs. He adds that love will bring the community together.
Jeneba Lassayo, Comboya Area Chief in Kaiyamba chiefdom, promises that SLUDI has the full support of the district elders and chiefs—they need only ask for help and advice. She promises to always love and protect people with special needs.
Nelson Lavrie, media representative and manager of Fountain of Peace (FOP) gospel radio station, says that people with special needs should never be pushed aside, instead they should be included in all facets of life. He remarks that anybody could experience a loss of ability, especially as they age. Lavrie adds that his radio station stands firm in its policy to consider people with disabilities when hiring employees.
Augustine Vandi, SLUDI Technical Advisor, strongly congratulates Williams and expresses his support and promises his full cooperation. He comments that Williams’s win was no mistake and that she’s the correct person to face the challenging work ahead.
Florence Foday, district representative of Handicap International, helps facilitate the meeting. She stresses the importance of identifying people in the correct way. She prefers the terms “people with disabilities” or “people with special needs” rather than “deformed people” or “disabled people”. She reminds the attendees that the proper identifiers help to foster dignity.
George Gbenga, public relations officer for the District Civil Society Organization, mentions his mother’s blindness as an example of his commitment to disability issues. He expresses his appreciation for Samuel Nylander, SLUDI Vice Chairperson, as his former school teacher. Gbenga promises to give future donations on behalf of his organization. He views the disability issue as a national issue. He concludes by telling Williams that she has a big responsibility in the District.
After closing prayers and lunch, SLUDI executive members return to Williams’s tailor shop to talk about the meeting and plan for the future. They’re thankful that most invitees showed up. They feel motivated and agree to meet soon. Before everybody goes their separate ways, Jeneba Williams tells the group, “What I need from you all is your support and cooperation. That’s it.”
People in attendance but not pictured
1. John Musa, District Council representative⠀—⠀2. George Gbenga, public relations officer for district civil society organization⠀—⠀3. Gerald Foday, another representative from district civil society organization⠀—⠀4. Abdulai Koroma, district director of Ministry of Social Welfare⠀—⠀5. Titus Bendu, SLUDI assistant secretary general
People invited but not present
1. District Gender Desk Officer, unable to attend due to a prior commitment. He assured SLUDI that his spirit would be with them on this important day. ⠀—⠀2. Alpha M Laluba, manager of Radio Modcar⠀—⠀3. DJ Umu ‘UB40’ Barrie, presenter on Radio Modcar