Essay from Ayokunle Adeleye

POSSIBILITIES FOR PLWD

The Clinical Pharmacy Clerkship in OOUTH, Sagamu runs for some 6 weeks and allows associate Pharmacists to receive clinical training and garner experience in clinical settings, to hone their skills, especially in the area of drug therapy, and to experience first-hand Pharmacy as a profession (of humanitarianism) in contrast to Pharmacy as a course of study.

Like many things scholarly, it is compulsory– and necessarily so. Yet, several occurrences make this experience worthwhile despite the compulsion: the dizziness from standing for so long during the rounds, seeing Consultants gb’ara le (unnecessarily rebuke) registrars and medical students, witnessing patients take offence to the frequency of students’ examinations while smiles yet light up the faces of recuperating patients, and particularly the vast knowledge available for grabs during rounds.

One fateful morning found me in Paediatrics, again on rounds. This time, the memorable moment was not the gb’ara-le of the Consultant or the stupefied look on the (helpless) recipient, it was the sight of three infants with Cerebral Palsy (CP). And after the Consultant in charge had questioned each mother and examined each child, it was glaring that the ignorance, poverty and poor practices of the mothers disabled these bundles of joy. I remember asking the soul beside me in hushed tones, “Should we not give birth?”

Prior to this memorable encounter, People Living with Disabilities (PLWD) were a much unknown existence to me, save the occasional encounters in motor parks where they have become a norm, begging for alms from all who cross their path. Yet, whenever I was that one in their path, I rarely gave out money for security reasons. Yes, that is so convenient. And, no, I ain’t that bad. I give them money once in a while, usually to get them off my back but sometimes out of pity as well.

Now, as irksome as that may sound, I am pleased to tell you that that account (and attitude) accurately depicts the prevailing acceptance of PLWDs: definitely below average! Ok, when was the last time you gave out of your heart, un-begrudgingly, to a person with disability? Hmm… I thought as much. Did you not rather scowl, or even swear? I have not bothered to ask about the hiss since that one is a given! Yet they need us to survive.

Yinka Shonibare is a British-Nigerian artist who lives in London. At 18, he contracted Transverse Myelitis (TM; an inflammation of the spinal cord) resulting in a long-term disability where one side of his body became paralysed. He subsequently obtained Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Art degrees in London, and currently employs batik, painting, sculpture, photography and movies in his work. Today, he is a critically acclaimed artist whose creativity knows no bounds.

Transverse Myelitis may not be so common among the masses but it has been scientifically proven that it is not so uncommon. In a paper titled, Profile and Outcome of Non-traumatic Paraplegia in Kano, Northwestern Nigeria, Transverse Myelitis was reported to be the second most-common aetiological factor in adult patients presenting with non-traumatic paraplegia. The report went on to note that that finding “was similar to that reported elsewhere in Africa”.

Born healthy, Helen Keller was a typical child. She became deafblind after she was afflicted with an unknown disease at 18 months. She subsequently developed home signs to communicate. Through her Mother’s unrelenting help, she met Anne Sullivan– a woman whose sight was partially restored through a series of operations– and this changed her life. Anne Sullivan began teaching Helen Keller manually by writing into her hand. One day, Helen Keller had a ‘eureka moment’: With Anne Sullivan’s help, she was able to understand that the cool liquid flowing over her palm was spelt ‘w-a-t-e-r’; up until that moment, she did not know that every object had a word identifying it. And how could she? She was deafblind!

Helen Keller went on to write books, lecture, and become a political and social activist. She was the first deafblind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree and she learnt– through Anne Sullivan’s help– to write and read braille, and speak. Anne Sullivan became Helen Keller’s companion till the former passed away, while Helen Keller became a worldwide celebrity who was friends with such dignitaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Albert Einstein and Graham Bell.

Although having different disabilities and nationalities, Yinka Shonibare and Helen Keller had common needs in order to achieve anything. While Yinka Shonibare relies on assistants to help him achieve his creative ideas because of the limitations imposed by his physical incapacity, Helen Keller not only required Anne Sullivan’s help to learn because of the uniqueness of her disabilities, but also relied on Anne Sullivan to read what she was required to know.

Both Yinka Shonibare and Helen Keller did not only have people who were strong in their area of incapacity, they also had a good support system, had access to as much education as they desired, and had adequate resources in a right environment to nurture and unleash their potentials regardless of any disability. It therefore comes as little surprise that they challenged every misconception about PLWD and have indeed expanded possibilities for PLWD.

It goes without saying, therefore, that PLWD in Nigeria (and other countries) need support, love, finances as well as supportive environments to unlock their potentials, and help them live and work in dignity. Family members are the first contact these people have with the (social) world and how they are treated by these ones is the determinant of how they see themselves and how they think they deserve to be treated. Esteem issues and nightmarish struggles stem from ill-treatment of these sources of blessing, especially by their own blood.

PLWD therefore need to be reassured and understood; they require more than an occasional show of concern during festivities from citizens and friends, and they certainly do not deserve the political gimmicks some leaders use to get airtime on television, or praises on social media.

Why are many people without disabilities not concerned about building adequately equipped centres for PLWD? Why are the Government-owned centres dilapidated? The sight of many of the structures is sordid enough to cause a nervous breakdown. Why are experts who incessantly equip themselves not employed to teach these children? Where are their educational materials? Why are people who do not have a passion to forge these ones the very ones involved in their training?

All may not be available to properly train these ones but we sure can show love; it does not cost a thing. We can make do with what is available and go the extra mile in showing PLWD that they are important. No, not every blame lies with the government! Have you ever thought of learning the Sign Language just to help facilitate conversations with deaf persons? That show of love can never be replaced by anything. Never!

Environment is essential in predicting the outcome of PLWD. Yinka Shonibare would not be a distinguished artist if he was not in a favourable environment; neither would Helen Keller have had the opportunity of speaking up for others who cannot, of teaching, and of writing books, if she did not have all that was necessary for her growth. Nigeria as an environment can be made more favourable for PLWD by developing and implementing policies that favour PLWD; by providing materials, and employing adequately trained resource personnel; and, above all, by bringing awareness concerning PLWD.

It must be said that PLWD are not in any way limited in greatness or possibilities, or to the creative arts; there are also great orators, lecturers, activists, professionals, and authors with disabilities. It is a misconception that PLWD cannot function in the society, are cursed, ineducable and/or worthless. The world is already hard enough as it is; we certainly do not need to make it harder for people who have to live with disabilities they never asked for. There is so much ability locked away in PLWD; it would be a shame to never harness them.

Bolaji Alebiosu c/o Heal the World Foundation Nigeria.
(Edited by #Ayk_EDIT)

***
To contribute to the care for PLWDs, do contact,
Dr Freeman Osonuga.
Founder/Executive Director,
Heal the World Foundation Nigeria.
freemanosonuga@htwfnigeria.org
www.htwfnigeria.org
www.twitter.com/freeman_osonuga
www.twitter.com/htwfnigeria

Alternatively, anonymous contributions may be made to:
Heal the World Foundation Nigeria
0129980640
Guaranty Trust Bank Plc
With PLWD as depositor.
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The People Living With Disabilities are fellow humans deserving our respect and requiring our help. The true nature of a people is seen in how they treat the less privileged, the weak, the ailing; and so far we have not been a good people…

PLWD are gods on earth,
different in a special way;
they have of appreciation a dearth,
and deserve much adoration night and day.

I have interrupted ongoing series (The POTENTIAL, When the Customer Is ALWAYS Right, and Our Democracy) to bring them to our collective notice, I only plead that you interrupt your interests to bring them to your individual (financial) notice.

Will you?

Ayk Fowosire.
For PLWD. For HTWF. For a better Nigeria…
@adelayok

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