UNMASKING THE TRUE EVIL AND DISMISSING THE MYTH
I was born a happy and healthy boy, with my advent into the family igniting joy and celebration. My father’s desire for a male child was finally realized. At about seven months old I was already running around the house. By the time I turned one year old, my dad bought me my first soccer ball. I would get up early, while everyone else was still in bed, and play in the house, knocking things over. But one night, before I turned two, something mysterious happened, or at least that was what I was told. My father worked as a security officer and worked nights. According to my mother, late one night while everyone slept, a witch dragon sent by some witches mysteriously entered our house and swallowed both my legs, rendering me impotent.
As I grew up, I couldn’t stop wondering, in my little mind, why witches were so cruel, even though I had only seen pictures of them in movies and fairy tale books. When I asked my mom why I became a target for the evil beings, mom said they were enemies of my father’s and they attacked me because they couldn’t get my dad. I lived with extreme hatred for witches on the basis of mommy’s little story. And I carried this story of bewitchment for over two decades of my life.
My first encounter with the word polio was in the early 1990s while I was a student at St. Patrick’s School (an all-boys school). I was a troublemaker in school, always embroiled in some sort of trouble. My complaints were regularly in the Principal’s office. Admittedly, I craved so much attention because there were so many things I couldn’t do as other boys; and so being troublesome got me some attention. So one day when I was caught in one of my pranks, I was summoned to the Principal’s office. The school’s principal then was one of the Catholic Nuns that was later murdered by NPFL rebels headed by Charles Taylor. Sister Shirley Kolmer was a PhD in Mathematics. When I got to the office, she was raged as she asked me, “young man, why do you think you need so much attention,” at the top of her voice. I was ice-cool as she recounted my number of offenses. After threatening me with a last chance for suspension, she told me to get back to class. While I was walking away to class she called me back and asked, “what’s wrong with your legs, were you born this way?” Then, like I always did when asked concerning my condition, I told her mommy’s dragon tale. Sister Shirley looked at me and said, “I think you suffered a polio attack.” I had no Idea what she was talking about, even though I was a junior high student. Later, as I grew up and began researching polio, all the shattered pieces of my mother’s bewitchment tale seemed to come together and make a lot of sense.
Indeed, a lack of knowledge is a major reason for most of our human problems. When Liberia launched the first polio eradication campaign in 1999, I was already in my mid-twenties. In a bid to unmask this myth that seemed commonplace in our society, I embarked on research to find out what other people with disabilities (PWD), specifically polio suffers, knew about their physical condition. With my training in journalism, I decided to conduct a small study, targeting ten PWDs in all, including six males and four females. The result of my little survey, just within the greater Monrovia area, actually revealed the level of ignorance about polio amongst PWDs. Of the ten persons interviewed, four persons had heard about polio, but did not have many details. Also, three of my interviewees knew polio to be a crippling disease, while three other persons were just like me before my meeting with Sister Shirley, “no idea!” But more interestingly, all ten persons attributed their conditions to some mysterious and unexplained source and not polio.
Ignorance is a major factor in the spread and large scale fatality rate caused by many issues that could be prevented and or controlled in countries like my own. The Liberian society is largely susceptible to superstitions, with most of the things happening being attributed to negative supernatural sources. For example, when Ebola first struck in early 2014, it became widely rumored that it was some supernatural, unexplained invasion. Later on, with the rapid spread and high fatality rate, and owing to international interventions, health authorities in collaboration with international partners had to launch a rigorous sensitization campaign titled, “Ebola Is Real, and it Kills.” It will amaze one to know that there are still some communities in Liberia where Ebola is still believed to be a mysterious evil force.
The findings from my research have further inspired my vision of advocating for the welfare and empowerment of PWDs. My desire to educate people about this crippling disease, while also working with victims to shift the negative mindset about themselves, has been strengthened. While government and her partners including Rotary International are administering polio vaccines across the country as a result of a recent resurgence, it is also important that victims know the true source of their physically challenged conditions. This is important so that as PWDs begin to have kids of their own, those little ones will not suffer a similar fate.
Being a Rotary Peace Fellow has not only strengthened my work of seeking empowerment opportunities for PWDs(especially polio victims), but it has also helped me in further unmask the true evil, and dismiss the myth largely held by them. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century some Liberian people still attribute polio disease to a witch-craft attack on people. Much campaigning has been carried out, with millions of dollars spent towards vaccination and sensitization. However, much more needs to be done towards community engagement. Young mothers, mostly in rural communities (and unfortunately in some urban communities), usually do home deliveries and do not have the opportunity to vaccinate their new born. These children are mostly vulnerable to polio attacks some time in life, thus the recent resurgence of the disease, even though Liberia was declared polio free a few years ago.
As a member of Class 30, I feel hugely privileged as I interact with inspiring change-makers who are all aspiring to make our world a better place in their own ways. I am extremely grateful for Rotary’s fight to eliminate polio from the world. As a complementary effort to that huge task, my efforts will continue along the lines of working with victims through advocacy for society integration, empowerment, and education. This work makes me feel meaningful.
Klonnious Blamo – Liberia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30