I want to go to school. I can play football. I can play with friends.
Garden Valley, TX (Vocus) December 2, 2008
Eleven-year-old Benedict Menkoah has always stood on his own two feet -- even though they pointed backwards.
He probably doesn't know that today the world promotes issues surrounding disability, that it's the 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or that his story is an encouragement to others around the world. What he does know is that now, thanks to several free surgeries onboard a Mercy Ship, he can run with his feet facing forward.
"I am able to walk now," Benedict says. "I want to go to school. I can play football. I can play with friends." He is also accepted by his extended family for the first time in many years, allowed back home because he is now "able." As he scurries up a tree to show how easy it is to climb, Benedict adds confidently, "I want to be a doctor." With no money to send his son to school, his father can only hope.
As one of 16 children growing up in rural Liberia, Benedict's bi-lateral clubbed feet were a disfigurement and burden that some family members could not bear. Only an older sister who was a teacher and saw how Benedict himself refused to surrender to his handicap, continued to hope that her little brother's disability would not define the rest of his life. She took care of him, along with her own son and three of Benedict's siblings.
In 2007-- and again in May of 2008-- his sister, Beatrice, brought Benedict to the Mercy Ship in Monrovia for two successive operations on his right foot and then his left foot. Since leaving the ship, he has attended regular physical therapy appointments at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia.
Ironically, Benedict's last physio appointment is scheduled for December 13th, the day the Mercy Ship departs from Liberia.
According to the WHO, eighty percent of all disabled people live in developing countries.
"Poverty and disability are so closely related," states Dr. Gary Parker, chief surgeon and 21-year veteran volunteer onboard the Africa Mercy. "But the additional social stigma added to the inaccessibility of health care, further complicates the difficulties that disabled people face. Every person we can help will also help change attitudes in their community towards the stigma of disability," he said.
Originally invited by the UN in 2005 to assist in the health care vacuum created by the nation's civil war, Mercy Ships surgeons have seen much change in the country since the end of the war and free elections.
High resolution photos and video can be downloaded at http://www.mercyshipsnewsroom.org
About International Day of Persons with Disabilities:
International Day of Disabled Persons aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. "Dignity and justice for all of us" is the theme of this year's International Day for Persons with Disabilities, as well as for the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The World Health Organization estimates there are about 600 million disabled people around the world, or about 10 percent of the population. Eighty percent of all disabled people, says the WHO, are in developing countries.
About Mercy Ships:
Over the past 30 years, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $670 million, directly impacting more than 1.9 million people. More than 850 crew worldwide, representing more than 30 nations, are joined each year by thousands of short-term volunteers. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, community developers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Go to http://www.mercyships.org
For more information contact:
U.S. Public Relations Manager
Diane Rickard, Director Media Relations
Mercy Ships International
UK Tel: 44 1438 727 800