March 14, 2016 By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
Over 100 disabled persons have expressed grave concern about the dilapidated condition of a structure they currently occupy at 109 Pademba Road, which they fear may collapse at any time if proper action was not taken to refurbish it.
The structure belongs to the Ministry of Works, Housing and Infrastructure, but since it was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago, a disabled group known as Help Empower Polio Persons Organisation (HEPPO) has been occupying it.
The group has called on the government and non-governmental organisations to relocate them to a safer building and save them from a ‘death trap’.
Ishmael Komba Gborie, chairman of HEPPO, told Concord Times last week that they occupied the building after the 11-year rebel war, which left them homeless.
He claimed that the building was vacant after it was destroyed by fire and that they had no option but to occupy it because they were unable to get a place at the Amputee Camp in Grafton.
“We have been living here for the past 17 years now. Nobody gave us the building. We occupied it after the war because it was abandoned by the Ministry of Works,” he explained.
He revealed they were going through psychological stress as they have no idea where to relocate to if the charred building suddenly collapse.
Our reporter observed that community people use the building as a dump site. The disabled squatters have expressed concern about waste being dumped at the building, which they say pose serious health threat to them.
“You see that hut (pointing at an old and dilapidated structure located inside of the building which has already collapsed), I am living there with my wife and three children,” Mohamed Koroma told this reporter.
Aruna Bangura, also disabled, said he preferred to remain at the structure despite its present condition.
“For me, I will like to remain here whatever the case may be. This is my home and I cannot move,” he insisted.
Chairlady of HEPPO, Esther Kallon, said they have been receiving humanitarian aid from the Disability Commission, NGOs, and philanthropists, adding that they eke a living from street begging.
“We are aware of the risk staying here, but we have made several calls to the government through the Ministry of Lands. The erstwhile Minister of Lands, Musa Tarawallie, made several promises to relocate us, but failed. Since the ministry seems not to be interested in this land, we want government to give us the space. We have our commission and other NGOs who are ready to construct modern structures for us,” she maintained.
Meanwhile, Public Relation Officer at the Ministry of Works, Francis Macaulay, told Concord Times in a telephone interview that the ministry had wanted to evict the disabled squatters from the dilapidated building and construct a new one, but had to abandon the plan because of pleas from the sacked Minister and Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, who promised to move them to another location at Waterloo.
When these concerns were put to the National Commission for Persons with Disability, Executive Secretary Saa Lamin R. Kortequee said they were ‘gravely’ concerned about the living conditions of the disabled persons at Pademba Road.
He said they were hanging heads with the Social Welfare Ministry to identify a suitable place for their possible relocation before the rains.
“The commission is not too equip to handle all the problems of disability. But nevertheless we are very concerned as I am a disabled myself. It is actually appalling for them to stay there. The building is a death trap,” he concluded.