About 200 people living with various forms of disabilities representing different states of the federation last week, converged at the nation’s capital Abuja, to showcase the talents exuded in them through their individual and groups’ locally made products. Maryam Garba Hassan, was there.
The trade fair with the theme, “Showcasing the Potentials of People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) for effective integration” attracted persons with disabilities from different rehabilitation centres and institutions in the country, established for the group to provide them with vocational training in identified trades with view to integrate them into the society, sharpen their innate skills and offer them gainful employment opportunities.
The trade fair organised by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in conjunction with the Federal Capital Development Authority, was to do a follow –up of the empowerment training programme for PWDs that took place in Taraba, Ondo, Rivers, Katsina, Benue, and Plateau states from 2011 to 2013 and for the government to assess the training and its impact on the beneficiaries.
According to the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya Zainab Maina, the exhibition was also organised to encourage and motivate Persons With Disabilities who have skills and talents, to exhibit the quality of the modern products they produced and to create an avenue to expose the products to international marketers.
Maina, said she is hopeful that the PWDs who successfully undergone the prescribed training enhanced their self-confidence and afforded them the opportunity to develop as individuals and valued members of the society.
She commended them for the unique products exhibited at the trade fair saying it was an indication that they acquired the necessary skills that enabled them to produce the exquisite products displayed at the trade fair.
52 year old Malam AbdulRahman Abdullahi, who is blind and currently the Chairman Blind Association of Nigeria, Bauchi branch, said he was among the people living with disabilities sent to Nigeria Farm Craft Centre, Lagos in 1980 to learn a trade by the Bauchi state government where he was taught how to make local fertilizer, mats, doors mats, and chairs and specializes in weaving chairs.
He said currently, he works with the Bauchi state government where he trains young people how to make mats, door mats and chairs.
‘Every year, the state government chooses two students from each of the 20 local government areas in the state to sponsor them to come to the vocational training centre and learn a trade of their choice. When you calculate you will see that in a year I train 40 students.
On how he manages to weave using colorful rubber thread on the chairs he sells, Abdullahi said, though he is completely blind, he can do a lot of things people with eyes can do.
“People think that because we are living with disabilities, we cannot do anything but beg, all we need is support from government and well- meaning Nigerians to bring out the best in us. I believe that every person living with disability has unique talent, all that the person needs is support, to identify the talent and build on it.
Abdullahi who sells a chair for N8,000, called on government to build more vocational training centres so as to accommodate more people living with disabilities because according to him, begging weakens the mind and denies one’s family the opportunity to acquire western education.
“When you chose begging as a means of making ends meet, you are denying your children and your generation of unborn, children the opportunity to be educated and do something meaningful with their lives for them to contribute to the development of the country. That means that they will remain illiterate if care is not taken’, He said.
He said one of the contributory factors to the rise in population of beggars in the north, is the attitude of northern leaders as well as wealthy people in the society, who do not want to give support to PWDs, to enable them live decent and comfortable life, instead of begging.
Another beneficiary of the training programme who was crippled from birth, and is equally a Senior Assistant Craft man with the Gombe state, and professional shoe maker, Malam Abubakar Yusuf, said he sponsored his own education at vocational training schools in Kano and Gombe states in 1996 and 1998 respectively to become self -reliant.
“I grew up with the notion to be self- reliant by doing something meaningful with my life despite my health challenge. Apart from making shoes, bags and belts, I also construct gates, doors, windows and trans- cycling chair for people living with disabilities”, he said.
He said he started working with the Gombe state training centre in 2003 and rose to the rank of Senior Assistant Craft man.
According to him, every year the state government trains two people in a trade of his or her choice at the centre, which he said has helped in reducing the number of beggars in the state.
Today, I own a workshop where I do leather works with staff strength of 5 apart from those who left and are doing well in the skills they acquired.
According to him, some of the disabled people who were trained at the Gombe state training centre have gone back to begging because they have no capital to start businesses of their own. He called on government to provide capital for those qualified PWDs as a means of eradicating begging in all the states of the federation.
He said however, in the last 10 years, begging in Gombe state has reduced to a minimum level with the training of the PWDs in various trades.
It is a well -known fact that people living with disabilities, especially in the northern parts of the country, mostly resort to begging to earn a living, a menace that has eaten deeply into our societies and caused us world embarrassment as the population of beggars among people living with various forms of disabilities, the poor and those who see begging as a lucrative business keep increasing.
Stakeholders at the trade fair expressed optimism that with intervention and equipping of vocational training centres at the national and states levels, the plight of the PWDs will change for the better.
It would be recalled that early this year, the Kano state governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, waged war on beggars in the states and returned hundreds of children living as Al majirais in the state to their parents in his bid to rid the state of beggars, assumed to have constituted public nuisance.
The action was criticized in various quarters. While some saw it as a good development, especially with the current security challenges facing the country, some felt that the governor should have trained those interested in some skills to enhance quality of their lives, and also enroll their children in schools.
Experts say, however, there is need for state governments to equip and renovate disabled persons centres to give those committed among the PWDs opportunity to learn a trade and contribute to the development of the society.
“It is even more important for the federal government to improve all facilities at the centres nationwide with a view to addressing the current trend of using children for criminal activities”, they say.
Though the essence of the trade fair is to show case the talents and capabilities of the PWDs, the major challenge that they faced, as discovered by Peoples Daily centred on the fact that their expertise and skills suffered setback as their products are still struggling to be marketable, appreciated and patronised by the public leading to their discouragement.
Generally, it was observed that the trade fair was not well publicized leading to a low turn- out of people at the event which lasted for three days. It is suggested tha the government should follow up the fair by helping to advertise the products produced by the PWDs for them to become household items. This will encourage them further and give them a sense of belonging.
NGOs also have a role to play in this regard by helping to create awareness on how people can benefit from such events where the PWDs will exhibit their products or by establishing a supermarket where their goods can be sold as it is being done in Kenya.