Voice Of The Disabled, a 3 year-old locally based non-profit organization, is positioning itself to better execute its advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities who live throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The group was formed because long time School for Children with Special Needs teacher, Cheryl Adams, was inspired to so do. “Once or twice I heard a voice telling me ‘why not advocate for persons with disabilities and when I really took a look at what is happening around us with persons with disabilities I had to take up the challenge,” she said.
Cheryl is visually impaired and also serves as the organization’s President. She recalled that her conscience’s constant prodding provoked her to convene a meeting in 2016. “After I kept hearing the voice, I called up some of my brothers and sisters who are disabled. They have also been saying that they don’t think we have good representatives, we’re not being represented well and much is not happening in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for persons with disabilities.
“So I called them on October 22, 2016….We had about 17 people in attendance and then in 2017 we launched it on August 26.”
It’s most ambitious undertaking to date has been a training seminar which the group produced to better equip parents and teachers with the necessary skills to care for their disabled wards. Together with their partners, on the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) and in the separate Ministries of National Mobilization and Education, Voice of the Disabled conducted a two-part series of workshops.
“We met with ICEVI members from North America and Jamaica and we would have trained teachers through the Ministry of Education and also parents through the Ministry of National Mobilization. The workshop benefited teachers in the primary and secondary schools in that they were taught how to detect if a student is having visual impairment issues.
“They were given an idea about the importance of these children being detected and assessed. They also got an idea about braille and how to use the white cane.
“And for the parents we invited Mr. Charles Mossop the Regional President, at the time, of the World Blind Union to be one of the facilitators. He talked to parents about accepting their visually impaired children. We also had a young lady from the Ministry of Health talking to parents about the importance of taking care of their children,” Adams detailed.
Although the focus has so far zeroed in on the blind, the President explained, “the group is for everyone. I don’t know if it’s just the visually impaired who are hungry for more but the other disabled persons tend to stay in the back. It’s the visually impaired who come out most.”
Servicing transportation costs is an issue as it is difficult to raise revenue through the usual means of subscriptions collected from members. Therefore members usually find it difficult to journey to the meetings when convened.
The NGO endured something of a nomadic phase after losing access to its first base of operations – the Learning Resource Center at Colonaire – “we were told that we can no longer have meetings there because the Center was not usable,” Adams explained.
An unnamed benefactor eventually offered the NGO a somewhat derelict property in Sans Souci to be used as their new home. Since acquiring the permission to occupy the space, Adams told us, she met with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who pledged his government’s support to renovate the building, through the Buildings, Roads and General Services Authority (BRAGSA).
“BRAGSA started some work at the building but for some reason, they stopped the work. I have been asking them what is the reason why the work was stopped but I’ve not been given any good reasons,” Adams disclosed.
Undoubtedly the advocates’ need to establish an appropriate base became an ever present challenge, given the services already being offered. Last Sunday, August 16, Voice of the Disabled’s contagious volunteerism again manifested as members of a local church matched the group’s efforts to help repair the building’s roof.
The construction inputs were sourced, in part, through the Ministry of Housing who provided, “some of the materials not all – because we still need some stuff and we asked the brethren from the Seventh Day Adventist Church at New Grounds and Pastor DeRoche consented … so the galvanize that were given to us by the Ministry of Housing we used those because the building is leaking badly,” Adams said.
There is still some work to be done on the building’s roof as again transportation issues cropped up, this time hindering the NGO’s renovation progress. “There’s a big hole in a certain part. Someone sponsored some galvanize but it was just to get someone to pick them up from Browne’s Hardware, so that’s the problem now,” Daniel Chambers, the group’s Assistant President, told us.
When it gets up and running the Voice of the Disabled Center would provide training to help ready disabled persons for the job market as well as enhance individuals’ skills in reading braille, sign language and using Information Technology for the visually impaired. The group also promises to be non-discriminatory in their membership drive and as such are open to counting “able bodied” persons amongst their ranks.
Other elements of their advocacy would include anti-discrimination campaigns to call attention to disabled persons’ plight across various sectors of the Vincentian society such as access to transportation and other mobility concerns as well as access to housing and education for further advancement opportunities.
In the meantime the PRYME secretariat, we were told, is working along with the NGO to develop a viable commercial enterprise to complement their revenue earning potentials. We reached out to Frederick Stephenson, the Minister for Persons With Disabilities, in order to ascertain what is causing the delay in the group’s government backed subvention. MP Stephenson did not respond; a trait, we were also told, he exhibits whenever invited to meet with the NGO.
In the absence of government funded support, Voice of the Disabled is soliciting support in cash and/or kind towards their ongoing renovations project. Interested parties are asked to call 1 784 593 1241 for details.