“As for this country, no one respects you if you are disabled,” says Kofi Essel as he pushes himself through traffic in Accra.
He weaves through traffic to safety as cars honk at each other. The traffic light signals green and the cars move.
He wheels himself to a car near him to ask for money. Rushing to beat the green light, the car whizzes past him almost running over his feet.
“This is the hell we go through every day,” he says.
Essel is just one of the hundreds of physically challenged persons on the streets of Ghana’s capital begging for alms.
There are an estimated 5 million disabled people in Ghana. Many of them, live life on the edge.
And this year, as the world is in the middle of battling the monstrous coronavirus pandemic, their lives have gone from bad to worse.
Although Ghana’s response to the disease has largely been hailed as a global success, most of these people have largely felt left behind.
Ghana currently has 68,559 recorded cases with over 500 deaths.
After a nose-dive in the numbers at the close of 2020, hopes were high that the end of Covid-19 in Ghana was near.
But with a surge in the numbers at the beginning of 2021 and a new strain of the virus, it is uncertain what could happen next, especially in view of the challenges of life under unbearable restrictions.
But in all of this, where are the country’s disabled people?
“Disabled people have suffered in two folds every pain that everyone else has suffered under this pandemic. When people were being sought to be laid off, disabled people were the softest targets. Some of them even had to agree for their salaries to be slashed so they can stay employed,” says Alexander Bankole Williams, himself a visually impaired person who teaches at the University of Ghana.
The government of Ghana has done very little in support of this vulnerable group of people and with no clear policy for persons with disabilities in this pandemic, no one knows what to expect.
Away from the heat of the traffic where Essel is begging for money, it’s kick-off in downtown Accra.
This is a rare space for happiness for some of the city’s disabled people.
Once every week, some of these amputees come here to play their version of football called skate-soccer.
They use home-made roller boards produced with wooden boards fitted with ball bearings at its base and with a belt that holds them to the board. With this contraption, they are able to wheel themselves across the concrete floor while they pass the ball among themselves with their bare hands.
Hundreds of onlookers, wowed by the skill and initiative, cheer them on from the pavement where they stand to watch in amazement.
The man captaining the team is 45-year-old Ahmed Gariba. Like him, a lot of the amputees playing today have no homes and live rough on Accra’s streets with very little support.
Ahmed, first came to Accra in 2001.
At five years, he suffered from polio, crippling him and leaving him bed-ridden for the years that would follow.
“Covid-19 has hit us very hard. This game is our hope and place we run to for rescue from all the problems. But even here, we have felt the impact of this disease,” he revealed.
Ahmed run a provision store, opened for him by someone who found him on the streets.
It was with that store, that he took care of his wife and four children. The provision store was already heading towards bad times as his capital dwindled.
When Covid-19 struck, there was a lockdown, and he says, his store collapsed due to poor sales. Now, he is back on the streets begging.
Potiphar Amedi lives in the small town of Pokrom Nsaaba in the Eastern Region.
As a blind teenager, he has honed his craft for years, as a musician and an instrumentalist.
For him, life was already tough even before the virus hit.
Potiphar’s story is even worse. All his siblings are disabled. He lives in a house of physically challenged people. Anita Amedi, his sister, is blind. Patricia Amedi, another sister, is also mentally ill. George, Anita’s husband, is also too a blind man. They all live in the same home as Potiphar.
“Sometimes they say we are a cursed family,” he says. Potiphar’s life typifies the country’s most vulnerable. For people like that, Covid-19 complications have worsened livelihoods.
“Sometimes we eat once in a day. My parents are farmers and because the restrictions led to poor sales for their farm produce, we did not have money to feed ourselves”.
The bigger problem for Potipher is that as a student with special needs from the Akropong School for the blind- one of the few in the country for people like him, there was no government alternative for him to study for the entire 10 months that schools were closed.
“They forgot about us. We did not have any means of learning. If I say I learnt anything within the 10 months, then I would be lying,” he says.
Now, he feels left behind.
Potiphar’s pain is because there were arrangements for children in regular school to study via virtual platforms.
“We have to learn. I hope that Covid-19 would be a changing point for Ghana. That disabled people like me would see change in the way we live,” says Christopher Agbega, a Covid-19 Projects officer for the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations.
This pandemic has had immense damage to Ghana’s economy but for disabled people, it is the life shattering conditions that complicates their already bad living conditions.
Gariba’s skate-soccer career is now on the line with all sponsorships for his team lost. His provision store has collapsed and he is back on the streets, begging.
Essel’s children are out of school because he does not make enough money from begging to feed himself, let alone keep them in school.
Potiphar has had his education setback for months and is unsure what the future holds.
As the world is planning for the post-Covid-19 era, many, especially Ghana’s people living with disabilities who have been brutally battered by this pandemic, keenly look forward to where they would be placed in the plan for the future.
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