The first meeting of the Assocation for People With Disabilities in Tchekpo Togo was held in early February in the community library. I knew it was important. I knew it was needed. I didn’t know what to expect. I had of course noticed people with disabilities around Tchekpo, but spread out, just seeing someone from time to time was deceptive. At that first meeting I realized just how serious this issue was. I never saw so many disabled persons in one place. I arrived about ½ hour early. Honou Koffi and Komi were already there arranging and tugging on tables and chairs to form sort of a circle. Honou on his crutches, Komi limping with his one foot that is just completely turned upside down. Honou smiled, and he looked very happy. He’d been looking forward to this day for many months, probably years. He said he didn’t need any help, so I just took a seat in the front of the room and waited for people to arrive….wondering how many people would come. Hoping for Honou’s sake that it would be well attended. He had traveled through the village for days to tell all the handicapped people he could find about the meeting.
Last summer Honou Koffi and another young man, Komi, were lucky enough to attend the Togo Peace Corps first annual Camp Joie in Pagala for handicapped youth. This camp was the brainchild of about four volunteers. I’m in awe of what they accomplished. Honou and Komi came back from camp with a new found self confidence. They were glowing and happy and excited about what they had learned, and had a new, palpable hope for their future. When he returned Honou spent a lot of time talking about Lyle, Stacie, Meredith, Martin and Nahid; the Peace Corps Volunteers who founded the camp, worked the camp and set up the structure for it. They obviously inspired Honou and Komi, and Honou would tell me funny stories about each one of them.
|Members performing a sketch on self-esteem|
|The Indominatable Honou Koffi|
For more on Honou Koffi see: http://terrynichols.blogspot.com/2010/12/hunon-koffi.html and http://terrynichols.blogspot.com/2012/02/champignons-and-champions.html
The Chief has been very supportive of this particular project. He should be. There are so many people with disabilities here in Tchekpo. It’s hard to say what the primary cause is. Poor nutrition during pregnancy, polio, mishaps. Most seem to be birth defects of some kind. I know the Chief has several kids that live in his compound who have disabilities. I’m not sure how they are related to him, or even if they are. So the Chief has indeed taken a personal interest in what we are doing. He has appointed a representative from his council who attends the meetings, and offers support. We are trying very hard to do this professionally. Set up a structure, so that we can get this registered by the Togo Government as an official association. We elected officers and the secretary takes notes of each meeting. We also hold an officers meeting once a month.
Meetings are held twice a month on Saturday mornings. The meetings are inspirational and pertinent to their needs and desires. We have an average of twenty people show up for each meeting; however the Chief really wants us to expand our current reach. Each meeting there is a topic of interest that is discussed, and then the members will perform a little sketch about the topic. Some of the topics we’ve covered have been about self-confidence, health and hygiene, family life. They collect dues (whatever the person is able to pay), sing songs and pray. We now have a “wish list” that they go over at each meeting. The wish list includes things they’d like to see the association do, as in having a demonstration of income generating activities, or talking to the churches about helping them raise funds. We’ve had several speakers come from the bigger villages. One man came from Tesvie and talked to them about the benefits of being an official registered association as opposed to just a club.
Sidenote: If you’ve read any of my blog, you understand at depth that “nothing is easy in Togo.” Certainly the heat and the terrain, not to mention the poverty and hunger are all daily challenges. It’s hard living and yet all of these people I have met with disabilities get around and go about their life, as if they are no worse off than anyone else. Amazing!