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Story of A Disabled Beneficiary from AIFO-LIBERIA "Disability and Start-Up" project

Martha Topkah is a former leprosy patient and a physically challenged mother of seven (7) children. She currently lives in Wuo’s Town, Ganta Nimba County. Born in 1968, Martha lost her mother in 1980 and her father died the following year. “the death of my parents affected my childhood life while growing up” Martha said. She further narrated how she got affected with the leprosy disease. It all started in 1978. At the age of ten, she encountered the leprosy disease and was diagnosed by doctors at the Ganta Rehab. “At the Ganta Rehab, I was treated and placed on medication. My parents were always there for me at the Rehab”.

MARTHA REGRETS HER PARENT’S DEATH:

“When both my parents died in the space of one year, an uncle of mine came and took me from the Rehab against my will and took me to the country side. While I was in the country side, my medication finished and my uncle refused to bring me back to the Ganta Rehab and that caused my condition to worsen. Due to the seriousness of the new development, village members compelled Martha’s uncle to bring her back at the Ganta Rehab in 1982. While at the Rehab, her wounds were treated and she restarted her medication.

REFLECTION FROM FAMILY MEMEBERS AND FRIENDS:

Gradually, her wounds faded away but disability set in from both her hands and feet. “My family members abandoned me at the Ganta Rehab since 1982 till today because of my sickness”. Martha explained that after the completion of her treatment, she settled in Wuo’s’ Town, an area where most former leprosy patients live after completion of their treatment due to abandonment from their families.

Martha felt very unpleasant about her life: “I felt very terrible of myself and could not stop thinking why my parents left me when I needed them the most. One thought said to me that I should take away my life and be free from all the bad feelings. Therefore, I over-dosed myself with some drugs at the age of 15. But thanks to Dr. Chamber who intervened and flushed the medicine from my system and gave me other drugs, I stabilized”. Martha explained that another aspect that helped her recover from the frustration was the acceptance by the community members and that was only because Wuo’s’ Town is a home of former leprosy patients.

With the exception of Wuo’s’ Town, other community dwellers did not allow her to fend around their environment and their children. The discrimination against her outside of Wuo’s’ Town was severe and was in all forms; (denied her to buy and sell to the public, isolated, discriminated her children and label names on them because of her sickness, etc.).

HOW MARTHA’S LIFE TRANSFORMED AS A RESULT OF AIFO’S SUPPORT?

Martha encountered AIFO through the son of a former leprosy patient who served as volunteer for AIFO Liberia in 2011. The volunteer informed her that AIFO is an organization that works with people living with disabilities and leprosy.

AIFO encouraged and supported persons with disabilities including persons suffering from leprosy into self-help groups and provided series of training in soap making, tie-dye, animal husbandry among others. Following the training grants ranging from 500-800 USD was provided to Martha and her group. There, they engaged into income generating activities by raising pigs.
“AIFO has exposed me to places and people who I never thought that I could stand among and speak on issues affecting we the disabled and leprosy people. Today I am one of the persons always invited to meetings and discussions concerning my communities and other issues through AIFO programs”.

“Thanks to AIFO grant, I am now able to manage a business in my community through which I am providing for my children and I. Community dwellers are my major customers and through my business, my children are in school. I am very glad to have been one of the many respected women in my community that non-disable people come to for help and I always take pride in helping them out”
Martha’s group was recently selected from a pool of applicants as part of a start-up initiative promoted by the Disability and Start-up project funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Her group plans to expand their current piggery project.

AIFO’s economic empowerment program aims to enable women with disabilities to reposition themselves economically and politically in the decision-making spaces so that they may have greater influence in shaping the future of their communities.

In doing this, the programme supports women to overcome obstacles to become economically independent. This benefits the overall well-being of their families and societies. This effort will be further expanded with the recent support from SIDA to promote economic empowerment opportunities for persons with disabilities in Liberia.

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