Many persons with disabilities face obstacles to participate in social, cultural and professional life on an equal basis with other citizens which prevent them from fully exercising their potentials. It is against this backdrop that the Coordinating Unit for Associations of Persons with Disabilities (CUAPWD) in the Northwest Region in collaboration with the Socio Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SEEPD) Programme organized a one day orientation workshop on the development and management of a regional network for personal assistants on August 2015, 24 at the SNEG Conference Hall, Fish Pond Hill in Bamenda. The workshop had as objective to establish a network of volunteers who are trained as community personal assistants for the movement and access to services by persons with disabilities.
Presenting an overview of the personal assistants project, the CUAPWD Programme Officer, Ndi Veronica Ngum admitted that the availability of personal assistants for persons with disabilities is important but decried that the lack of legislation, significant poverty and lack of trained persons pose difficulties for persons with disabilities to hire personal assistants. She highlighted that the role of a personal assistant is to provide transportation and information amongst others to persons with disabilities.
The Programme Officer noted that the expectations of the project are that community members, local authorities and stakeholders are informed on specific needs of persons with disabilities and that they are more inclusive and participatory in the socio economic and political development of their communities .The project also looks forward to recruiting and developing the capacities of 70 community volunteers who will offer assistive services to all categories of disabilities. This project will therefore empower persons with disabilities and benefit the national economy as well as relief the burden of family members and create employment.
The Supervisor of the Community Based Rehabilitation Services (CBR), Mr. Kenchi Joseph pointed out that CBR initiated the idea of personal assistants in 2013 during which they shared it with CUAPWD to develop and implement it as one of their activities. Drilling the participants on volunteering concept, the supervisor defined volunteering as services offered without pay. In small group discussions, the participants said volunteering is good because it contributes to the development of the individual and community.
The Coordinator of CUAPWD, Mr. Nyincho Samuel presented a form for assessing volunteers which was modified and adopted by the participants. Henceforth, volunteers will be selected based on the requirements on the form .In an interview with Mr. Nyincho, who is a person with visual impairment, he affirmed that as a person with impairment he needs a personal assistant reason why he called on the participants to put hands on deck to create the network for personal assistants in the North West Region.
Participants identified traditional and religious rulers, Local councils, Associations of Persons with Disabilities, family members, CBR field workers and the government as stakeholders to this project. The expectation from the stakeholders is to facilitate awareness creation on the need of volunteering as a personal assistants to persons with disabilities.
SEEPD Communication Officer, Fru Rita Ngum reports that the workshop was attended by CBR field workers from the Seven Divisions of the NWR and some Leaders of APWDS who bought the vision of the project and took commitment to go back and identify persons in their communities who can volunteer to be personal assistants. It is hoped that when the project gets to maturity, the participation of persons with disabilities in mainstream activities will increase tremendously.