Imagine having a disability in a developing country. How would you get around? Could you go to school? Would you be able to become employed and have a family? Would you even survive?
Stella Kofie-Yariga answers “Maybe,” to all of the above. She was born in Acra&& and lives and works in Tamale, Ghana. She is completing a Fellowship at The Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at The University of Minnesota. Yariga works for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Ghana called Action on Disability and Development, or ADD. ADD is a British-based agency with branches in 12 countries. Tamale is located in the north of Ghana, which is the poorest part of the country. Ghana itself is located on the west coast of Africa.
Yariga describes ADD’s mission as an organization that prefers to be in the background. “It works for the rightful inclusion of people with disabilities into society.” ADD works primarily in the three northernmost regions of Ghana. They work with people who are deaf, blind, and physically disabled to assist them to gain influence in policy making, to build capacity, and to increase economic empowerment. Yariga says, “We don’t do it for them, we give them skills so they can do for themselves.” Her responsibilities include designing, implementing, and reporting on programs for people with disabilities.
She says ADD has programs that teach people sign language skills (American Sign Language) and Braille. They teach literacy and numeracy. ADD also assists in the production of white canes and wheel chairs.
Yariga says people with disabilities in Ghana are not very well organized. “They’re fractured and there is in-fighting.” But she says, “They have told ADD that they want to be more involved on the policy level.” So, ADD has responded and in the past five years since its birth in Ghana, it has begun to offer trainings for people with disabilities in how to advocate and organize.
Yariga tells about the three most common ways people with disabilities are treated in Ghana. She says, “They’re either neglected, over protected, or in some cases, they’re killed. People think the disability is due to witchcraft.” Still she says, “If the parents have the means, they can get the child out of Ghana to be educated in the United States or Great Britain.” She has known of some people with disabilities who have succeeded and become lawyers as well as other professional occupations.
Yariga has her undergraduate degree in Special Education with a focus on visually-impaired and blind services, and her Masters in counseling. Her Fellowship is focusing on how law can be used as a tool for social development. She has interests in human rights for women, children, and people with disabilities. She is also interested in leadership and non-profit management.
She is married and has two children, a boy, seven, and a girl, fifteen. Her year-long Fellowship at the Humphrey Institute is nearly over. She says, “It has flown by.” She misses her family but manages to keep in touch with them weekly.