A sign reading “Property of EEPD Africa” stands prominently in an otherwise empty plot not far from Accra, the capital city of Ghana. The land it sits on, covered in native shrubs and grasses, may one day be home to an innovative new school designed specifically with disabilities in mind. For now, it serves as a reminder of a dream that is yet to come to fruition — reducing the ties between disability and poverty in Ghana.
Enlightening and Empowering People with Disabilities in Africa (EEPD Africa), is one of many organizations in Ghana that advocates for and provides assistance to people with disabilities. Started in 2012 by Sefakor Komabu-Pomeyie, a survivor of polio, EEPD Africa works to analyze and support legislation related to disability and accessibility.
Alongside this work, Komabu-Pomeyie has included another project into the EEPD, one that lies close to her heart. The dream of building an accessible school comes from her own experience as a child with a disability. For her, education is crucial. “If I had not been able to be in school, I don’t think you would even know me,” Komabu-Pomeyie states in an interview with The Borgen Project. “I would have been on the streets begging.”
Disability and Poverty in Ghana
Around the world, people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in their communities. More than 700,000 individuals in Ghana have a disability and households that include a person with a disability experience poverty at more than 10% the rate of other households.
People with disabilities face barriers to education, employment and healthcare. This lack of accessibility means that many are unable to take part in formal society and often have to resort to begging for money and food. “There are a lot of people with disabilities on the street right now,” Komabu-Pomeyie says. “You will see them lined up in traffic, they go from car to car begging.” Poverty is especially hard on children with disabilities, who may not have equal access to schooling. People with disabilities may also be unable to afford the medications needed to manage their conditions, which can have tragic consequences.
Another part of disability and poverty in Ghana is the stigma that is often attached to having a disability. Many families in Ghana keep relatives with disabilities inside their homes, hidden from their communities. This limits access to society for people with disabilities in Ghana. Komabu-Pomeyie recalls how her father saw her disability as a source of shame. This eventually led him to abandon her and her mother. “One day he just woke up and wrote on a paper and put it on the table for my mom: “I can’t live with this thing,” Komabu-Pomeyie reiterates her father’s words.
Disability Advocacy in Ghana
Disability advocacy groups are battling stigma in Ghana, often helmed by people with disabilities. One of the earliest advocacy groups, the Ghana Society for the Blind, was founded in 1951. Other organizations soon followed.
In 1987, the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations was created to facilitate collaboration between different disabled communities. This overarching group currently has seven primary organizations as members, including associations for the blind, deaf, physically disabled and those who have neurological and immunological conditions. These organizations raise awareness about disabilities and create opportunities for people to access medical care, education and employment. These efforts provide a vital lifeline for people experiencing disability and poverty in Ghana.
One of the biggest achievements advocates have seen is the passing of the Disabled Persons Act in 2006, which makes it illegal to discriminate against or exploit a person based on disability. The act also puts government supports in place to improve the accessibility of infrastructure, education and employment.
The enforcement of these protections is now a primary goal for advocacy groups. In spite of the law, in many places, children are still turned away from schools because of a disability. Advocacy organizations still have to step up to ensure the child’s right to an education. “The bigger challenge we have in Ghana is implementation or enforcement,” Komabu-Pomeyie says.
Komabu-Pomeyie’s belief in the importance of education in addressing disability and poverty in Ghana comes from her own experience. Her mother, a school librarian, would carry her to school every day where she would learn underneath her table. This devotion to her education inspired Komabu-Pomeyie, who eventually earned her doctorate despite the painful and dehumanizing challenges she faced. “When you see me, beautiful, sitting here today, I went through a whole lot of pain,” Komabu-Pomeyie says. “That pain is what I don’t want any child with disabilities to go through.”
The experience fuels her motivation to build an inclusive and accessible school for children with disabilities. Having worked with the Ghana Education Service, Komabu-Pomeyie has the knowledge and connections necessary. She completed the plans for the school and purchased the land with community support. Funding, however, remains an obstacle. The project is estimated to cost $200,000, but less than $500 has been raised. Despite having land and community support, a lack of finances presents a significant barrier.
Komabu-Pomeyie remains determined to complete the school and help children with disabilities access inclusive education with the accommodations that they require. Disability and poverty in Ghana is a complex issue, but it is one that organizations and individuals are working tirelessly to address.
– Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Wikimedia Commons