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Disability Is Not Inability

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A Life of Resilience – How a Female Living with Disability is Impacting the Educational Sector

By Hannah N. Geterminah (Internews PWD Reporting Fellow)

Chapter One: Early discrimination

As the adage goes, “where one begins does not necessarily determine where s/he ends up.” Such is the story of Madam Miata Anastasia Goodlee, whose life challenges started at a very early stage in life.

Born a healthy and physically fit child, little Miata lost her vision at age five owing to unexplained medical reasons. Consequently, Miata’s father abandoned his poor wife and her “useless” daughter and disappeared to “God alone knows where.” The poor woman was left to fend for her daughter and other siblings as a single mother.

The discrimination against little Miata started with her own father and it became something she had to endure throughout her life in a society that is systemically discriminative against persons with disabilities.

 

Growing up as a person with a disability in Liberia can be so challenging as resentment and discouragement can be experienced from various sectors of society.

But more frustrating is discrimination from within the family circles. Unfortunately, many Liberian parents see educating persons with disabilities as a waste of time and effort. In most cases, parents or guardians rather use such children to become breadwinners for their households through bagging along with various street corners. While being often looked down upon due to their condition, society considers PwDs as people who cannot contribute anything meaningful to societal life.

According to the population census conducted in Liberia in 2008, people with disabilities represent 14% of the country’s total population but they are often marginalized and discriminated against by family members and the society thus making it difficult to access the education system, the job market, health services and even some public facilities.

 

Chapter Two: Acquiring Knowledge

 

Notwithstanding this troublesome beginning, Miata Anastasia Goodlee’s story presented another chapter when according to her she was discovered by a Christian Missionary lady named Sister Mary Sponsa Beltran. Little nine years old Miata was relocated from Grand Cape Mount County and brought to the capital city, Monrovia, specifically at the Rehab Mission now Mission of Hope, to start her new life. Indeed, this second chapter is a justification of the adage quoted above.

 

At the Mission of Hope, Miata began her educational journey. Madam Goodlee said after graduation from high school, she enrolled at the LICOSESS Mobile Teacher Training College where she obtained her first degree. Not allowing the unwelcoming conditions within the Liberian education system to hinder her pursuit for academic excellence, Madam Goodlee is currently pursuing further studies at the state-run University of Liberia in the area of Secondary Education.

 

Chapter Three: Giving Back

Once a kid at the Mission of Hope, learning to read and write, Miata has over the years empowered herself through education to overcome her physical condition. Over the years she has become sophisticated to “step in the shoes” of Sister Mary Sponsa Beltran as head of ‘Our Lady of Fatima School System’ (Hope Mission), a position she has effectively and adequately served in since 2009 to now.

 

Our Lady of Fatima School System (Hope Mission) is located in the Pipeline, Rehab Community in Paynesville. In addition to the regular academic program being offered at Hope Mission, the institution usually reaches out into the communities and recruits less-fortunate youth, some of them hooked on drugs, and provides rehabilitation and skills training opportunities to them; the program includes free education. Currently, about 30% of the over 400 students attending the institutions are on scholarship.

Since the establishment of the school in the year 2000, the institution has had sixteen (16) graduation ceremonies, graduating Liberians in various disciplines, including academic and skills training. Some of them have matriculated into other universities to further their education, while others are contributing to their communities in several meaningful ways.

 

Madam Goodlee who told her story to Internews PwD Fellow, named prayer, commitment, and resilience as the reason behind her success adding,  “I do not see my disability as inability, that is why I have made it my responsibility to keep doing what I can do to impact the lives of every Liberian that comes my way.”

According to Madam Goodlee, due to her passion to positively affect people living with disabilities through education, Mission of Hope has 15 percent of people living with disabilities who are not also paying tuition. “We are doing all of these with a single goal, which is to help Liberia by developing the minds of the future generation.” Madam Goodlee said.

Being confined to a wheelchair has not impeded her leadership and management of this great institution that is toughing many lives.

Her demonstrated leadership skills continue to inspire so many young people, especially other physically challenged people in the Rehab Community and beyond to seek quality education that will enable them to contribute positively to national development.

Admittedly, her achievement has changed the mindset of students of the institution and even community members towards people living with disabilities. She has been able to prove that people living with disabilities can also carry huge potential.

 

“I do not allow my being in the wheelchair to hold me back from making positive contributions in the lives of many young Liberians through the provision of quality education as well as Christian disciplines with the intent of securing the future of Liberia,” Goodlees told the Internews PwD Fellow in an interview.

Madam Goodlee believes that the future of Liberia rests upon the shoulders of the youth and as such, in her capacity as Principal of the self-sponsored and not-for-profit institution she focuses mostly on the maintenance of the school, paying salaries of her s employees, and ensuring that the school produces excellent results.

She disclosed that to keep the minds of the youthful population in a positive direction, her administration has been able to ensure that disadvantaged youth (Zogos), as they are commonly known, are recruited, rehabilitated, and educated at the Mission of Hope.

Madam Goodlee urged people living with disabilities not to listen to people who look down upon them but should rather always strive to make meaningful contributions that will yield a positive impact in society.

Students’ Accounts:

Linda F. Mentee, a 12th-grade student at Our Lady of Fatima School System sees Madam Goodlee as a role model

The contributions of Madam Goodlee were confirmed by some students of her institution as follows below:

Linda F. Mentee, a 12th-grade student at Our Lady of Fatima School System (Hope Mission) said looking at the major role women play in society, it is pleasant to see Madam Goodlee who is living with disability working tirelessly to ensure that young people are educated and see everybody equally.

Linda said having Madam Goodlee as principal of the institution reduces sexual and gender-based violence against female students and provides courage for many young students.

As a young female student who wants to be a leader in the future, she sees Madam Goodlee as a role model. “She is the kind of person that is very interested in discipline and always wants to see the best out of people. I know her to be a result-oriented person. That is why despite her disability, I am always proud of her,” student Linda said.

Peter V. Yogice, age 17, who has been in the school for the past five years described Madam Goodlee as a hard-working woman who has worked to ensure that students’ writing and speaking skills are improved. He said, “with the level of improvement Madam Goodlee has added to my life, I do not see her as disabled but rather a strong woman who I will want my future girls to imitate.”

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