Medical Charity Celebrates Int'l Day of Disabled Persons

Mercy Ships, a Christian medical charity, is celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3 by reflecting on one of its recent successful surgeries in Liberia.

Benedict Menkoah, 11, was born with bi-lateral clubbed feet and as a result was rejected by most of his family. Only his older sister, a teacher, accepted Benedict and raised him with her own son and three of his siblings.

In 2007, and again in May 2008, his sister, Beatrice, brought Benedict to the Mercy Ship in Monrovia for two successive operations on his right foot and then his left. After the surgeries, he has been attending regular physical therapy appointments at John F. Kenney Memorial Hospital in Monrovia.

"I am able to walk now," Benedict, who used to have backwards pointing feet, says to Mercy Ships. "I want to go to school. I can play football. I can play with friends."

Now, his extended family has for the first time in many years accepted him back home because he is now "able."

Benedict says he wants to grow up and be a doctor. His father can only hope given that he has no money to send his son to school. Benedict is one of 16 children.

"Poverty and disability are so closely related," stated 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."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of all disabled people live in developing countries. There are an estimated 600 million disabled people around the world, or about 10 percent of the population.

The International Day for Persons with Disabilities, which was declared by the United Nations, seeks to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities.

Since 1978, Mercy Ships has provided services valued at more than $670 million and directly impacted more than 1.9 million people in more than 70 countries. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, community developers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to offer free medical services to the poorest and most needy in the world.

Mercy Ships beneficiary Benedict will have his last physio appointment on Dec. 13, the day the charity ship departs from Liberia.