The Minister of Social Welfare, Mrs. Baindu Dassama spent hours in Waterloo on Tuesday, January 26, 2021, to settle a deadly impasse between members of the disability community and the St. Moses Orthodox Mission at Camp Junction (Morabi).
The members of the disability community stormed and held siege of the mission’s compound in that part of the country and efforts of the police to restore peace and calm yielded little or no dividend.
The riotous protesters were unhappy over what they described as unfair treatment following the mission’s disbursement of some Le180,000,000 (One Hundred and Eighty Million Leones), to eight (8) disable families as farewell or repatriation package after being hosted by the mission for some thirteen years. Each of the beneficiaries received Le22,500,000 (Twenty Two Million Five Hundred Thousand Leones) each to be used as rent (Le7,500,000) and business capital (Le15,000,000).
Another group of Twenty Two (22) members of the disability community who had happily left the mission by 2015 with a farewell package of Le4,500,000 (Four Million Five Hundred Thousand Leones) each, leaving behind the eight family members, mobilised and returned to the compound upon hearing the news of the new package and insisted they were treated unfairly during their departure.
Efforts by the Mission on Monday to demolish the old structures to make way for new development was met with stiff resistance from the disgruntled visitors who pelted stones and attacked mission staff to prevent the process.
The compound is housing a school, hospital, orphanage home, staff residences and church providing free education and healthcare for not only registered beneficiaries but community members in general.
It took the timely intervention of the Minister of Social Welfare, who stormed the scene on Tuesday morning and did not leave until evening hours after the situation was brought under absolute control.
Minister Baindu Dassama, on arrival, immediately summoned the protesters and the leadership of the mission for a round table discussion.
The members of the disability were given the opportunity to voice out their grievances that were mostly centered around the disparity in the repatriation packages notwithstanding the wide lapse in time of the two events.
They described themselves as ‘prodigal sons’ of the mission and that the mission had promised to make them self-reliant. According to them, they were enduring provocation from their colleagues over the differences in the packages.
They, however, expressed appreciation that the mission’s head, Father Themi has been good to them for more than a decade, but that they needed him to do more to change their stories, as he had promised.
On the part of Father Themi, he expressed his willingness to continue to seek the welfare of the protesters but cautioned them that violence and unrealistic demands is just not the right way to approach a welfare supporter.
He used the forum as an opportunity to express empathy while urging the disable members to be respectful and grateful despite the troubles they continue to endure in life.
He, however, defended claims of unfair treatment stating that at the time of the first repatriation, the beneficiaries were so happy with the package taking into consideration the living conditions by then.
While accepting them as his children, Father Themi agreed to engage and provide further support but warned them to remain law abiding.
After the presentations, the motherly minister, whom both parties had relied on as a credible arbiter did not disappoint. In fact, she had earlier engaged Father Themi ahead of the meeting.
Minister Dassama called on the protesters to be respectful and law abiding, while urging them to utilise appropriate conflict management channels even in situations where they feel aggrieved. She expressed appreciation to Father Themi for effectively supporting the president’s agenda on the rights and welfare of deprived and disadvantaged Sierra Leoneans.
According to the minister, disability issues are so close to the heart of His Excellency the President, while highlighting the strategic serious interventions of the brand new direction government on disability issues. She disclosed that her ministry will soon embark on a nationwide needs assessment survey to collate data for impactful interventions.
She outrightly condemned the use of violence or force in addressing issues, while reminding the protesters that the current government operates a zero-tolerance policy on lawlessness.
He called on the protesters to call off the siege and return to their various locations while assuring them that the ministry will ensure a peaceful resolution of the matter. She announced that she will remain in the compound and ensure everyone leaves to make way for the demolition exercise and she did just that.
A resolution was made for the various parties to meet at the ministry and map out a lasting solution on the matter.
The address of the minister succeeded in completely calming the protesters who praised sing her for her professional intervention.
They ended up apologizing to the minister and Father Themi for their behaviour while promising to be law-abiding at all times.
It could be recalled that these disables were rescued by Father Themi some thirteen years ago after they were kicked out from a residence at Walpole Street where they had lived for a long time as squatters.
He had since been providing them with daily food, accommodation, free education and medical for them over the period, in addition to monthly allowances.