ST MARY'S Rehabilitation and Development Centre, Ipetumodu, Osun State, working through Daughters of the Holy Spirit, DHS, is set to put smiles on the faces of persons with disabilities on Saturday 2 December.

Sister Elizabeth Kehinde, DHS, co-ordinator of the centre, in an exclusive interview with our reporter, says the challenges facing the disabled are "enormous." The challenges, according to her, range from lack of family support to a society that is hostile to the physically and mentally challenged.

The cultural perspective works against these "special people." They are sometimes seen as witches or wizards, "ogbanjes," or meat for the gods, says Sr Elizabeth.

The December programme, according to her, is an international event. Every third of December is set aside to celebrate persons with disabilities. The day is tagged the International Day of Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations. Instituted in 1992, this year's programme is tagged "Transformations towards sustainable and resilient society for all." The resolve is to "leave no one behind" in the drive to attain the transformative changes, as envisaged in the year 2010. It is a development agenda instituted by the United Nations.

The UN wants to see how the persons with disabilities can be included either socially, economically or politically in world affairs, says Sr Elizabeth.

In spite of global efforts, she says, it is still difficult for parents to accept that their physically challenged children are gifts from God. "They run from valley to mountain seeking intervention and they come to us when it must have been too late."

"Some parents, if they accept that their children have disabilities, will not give all the necessary care, they lock them up in a room, left to themselves. The parents have no time and hardly do they know what to do with such children. They may even deny having such children," she explains.

According to the coordinator, the society is putting persons with disabilities behind and any help the government claims to have for them turns out to be propaganda. For instance, the State of Osun, under the leadership of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has no programme for the physically challenged. The latest record on Internet was when a corps member gave a wheelchair to someone and that was in 2015.

"The government treats the persons with disabilities as second-class citizens," says Sr Elizabeth, "and when there is a public event and any such person presents himself or herself, he or she is scolded for daring to be among the crowd!"

The December event is envisaged to be a Christmas party for the "disabled in body, sound in mind." It is reckoned that when some of them get home to their families, they may not be a part of the yuletide festivities.

"This year Bishop John Oyejola of Osogbo has chosen the 3rd of December to be celebrating with us. He and his friends will be with us at the centre. For this year that he is going to be with us, because we don't want to be calling on parents always, we want to incorporate Christmas into this 3rd December celebration.

"We would have a talk on the topic for the day, which is Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all, and one of the physically challenged will anchor it. Then the children will entertain the audience comprising parents and invited guests. They are going to sing carol songs to tell them that the Christmas is already at the corner. 

"Hopefully after that we will go on excursion to round off the event. They will later depart to their various homes for Christmas," says Sr Elizabeth.

-Adedoyin Adekoya

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