Disability in Sierra Leone

The populations of Sierra Leone and Liberia contain a high proportion of disabled people. JHR International estimates that of Sierra Leone’s population of five million, at least 450,000 people are considered disabled. This includes blind people, deaf people, people with polio, and people with war wounds and amputations. The high number of people living with physical disabilities is a result of the war, during which a trademark rebel activity was to hack off the limbs of civilians. The overall figure for the disabled population could well be an underestimation (partly because records are not complete, and partly because definitions of disability vary greatly – for instance, mental health is not widely considered a disability in Sierra Leone), but the crux of the matter is that the government does not provide any support for disabled people.

Stanley wheelchair repair kits are part of the items we give out. The tool kit is used to repair wheelchairs within the community.
Stanley wheelchair repair kits are part of the items we give out. The tool kit is used to repair wheelchairs within the community.

The United Nations Human Development Index ranks Sierra Leone at 184 and Liberia at 181 (out of 186) in 2019. Sierra Leone’s Human Development Indicator (HDI) value of 0.419 in 2019 is way below the Sub-Saharan Africa regional average, revealing the extent of underdevelopment in the country. Disabled people are systemically marginalised and often face barriers when taking part in education, employment, and social activities. In a 2009 study of disability in Sierra Leone, only 32% of the disabled people surveyed said they had a job (this includes begging and menial jobs). Many disabled people (16.4%) have no access to healthcare compared to non-disabled people (7.1%). In addition, according to the United Nations Development Programme, only 35% of Sierra Leone’s population above 15 years of age have some form of education. The statistic is even higher for disabled people.

What we do

We are working with disability groups across three regions in Sierra Leone – Western Area, Southern and Eastern Regions.

We are the largest provider of skills training and professional tools, and mobility aids to disability groups in Sierra Leone.

Our partners

  • Mobility Sierra Leone – Bo
  • Mattru-on-the-Rail – Bo
  • Opportunity Training Centre – Kenema
  • United Polio Brothers & Sisters Association – Shell Polio Training Centre – Freetown

These groups are run and managed entirely by disabled people. They teach skills and produce good-quality domestic utensils, window and door frames, and other goods to sell in the local market.

We go in big. We provide the right tools and the specific material support that our partners need, ensuring that they are fully equipped for the work that they do.

We are presently working with two of the largest disability groups in Southern and Eastern Sierra Leone. These two groups (based in Bo and Kenema (respective regional headquarter towns of Southern and Eastern Sierra Leone)) receive large donations of professional equipment and tools, as well as mobility aids.

Equipment such as lathes, enable skilled local artisans to produce their own wheelchairs and tools.

A lathe like this enables our mobility partners (Mobility Sierra Leone) to produce locally adapted mobility riders like the one below.
Equipping individual people with mobility aids and tools brings independence and hope.

Where individuals have additional medical or mobility needs, are in full-time education or employment, and have access to electricity, we deliver electric wheelchairs.

Income generation

In addition to provision of tools and mobility aids, we set up agricultural projects for disabled people. In Freetown, we have introduced a new project that involves seed funding to develop sustainable income-generating food growing for the United Polio Brothers & Sisters. The project is the first to combine skills training, food growing, and the delivery of mobility aids. The key aim here is to fully equip the group to develop a sustainable food growing programme for self-reliance and to generate income.  We have constructed goat and sheep pens and a chicken run that all incorporate mobility access for wheelchair users.

Two large and sturdy sections are built to accommodate the goats. The sections provide plenty of space for the goats and are designed to be sturdy enough to protect the goats from thieves.

A double ramp is also added to the structure. This enables wheelchair users to enter the pens and clean them. This is a unique project that will transform the lives of disabled people who used to rely on street-begging to feed themselves and their families.

Finished goat pen with ramps for mobility access.

The building has six separate large runs. Each run is capable of holding over 100 chickens and has plenty of space to allow the chickens to move about freely. The chickens will also be able to roam outdoors. One key design feature of the building is accessible for wheelchair users. The structure has a wide corridor to enable wheelchair users to access the runs (as above).

Case Studies