|Grace Alache Jerry|
LIKE any upcoming music act, Grace Alache Jerry looks forward to a prosperous career, scintillating stage performance and showcasing of captivating dance steps. This dream was almost aborted on January 7, 2002, when at about 8 pm, the commercial motorbike she was on had a head on collision with a car while returning from ‘God’s own house’, where she had gone for the day’s choir practice. Regaining consciousness in a hospital, she realised her spine, lower back and pelvic have been affected; a damage that has since, then, confined her to the wheelchair.
The Otukpo, Benue State-native, whose rescuers ignorantly compounded her pains says, “though there was immediate help at the scene, as you know, those involved in the rescue mission were not Paramedics and as such, they didn’t know that my spine was broken on the spot. So, they mismanaged the situation, thereby worsening my case. Anyway, if not for their intervention, there is the possibly, I may have been dead by now.”
Surviving the mishap, Grace bounced back to her passion; playing music and helping parents identify and hone the talents of their children. However, her confirmation on the wheelchair opened her eyes to the plights of the physically challenged; a group she is now, in the forefront, advocating for, especially, as it concerns the construction of public building and roads.
Advancing her cause, the National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja, English language student contested for the 2011 Miss Wheelchair beauty pageant in the country and won. A platform, she hopes to use to promote the general good of the physically challenged across the country.
But what do you intent to achieve with your winning? “I want to promote a society where everyone is free to live and interact without prejudices, a society where people with disability will be free to move with little or no hindrance. I hope to persuade decision makers and those in charge of the construction of public buildings to make ways for those on wheelchairs to assess public buildings and the roads.”
The founder and executive director of Xperience Grace Foundation, a faith based not-for-profit and non-governmental child care organisation, is not only centred on the policy makers, but big private organisations; in fact, she has taken the battle to the hotels. Recently, she visited some hotels, which included the Golden Tulip, Festac, Lagos, where she discovered that some of their facilities are suitable for those confirmed to the wheelchair or physically disabled.
Speaking on how to make others in her shoes join the campaign, Grace who on June, this year, became the WaterAid in Nigeria ambassador, making her the official spokesperson for the physically challenged people in their Water, Sanitation And Hygiene (WASH) sector, enthuses, “my campaign is not for people with disability alone, but for the general public. I am out to enlighten them to first see people with disability as human before their disability, to see them as unique and endowed to do extra-ordinary things. I’m also carrying the same campaign to people with disability because if they don’t believe or see themselves as human that can do anything and everything, the society will see them for that light. If they begin to look down on themselves, expect people to have pity on them or depend on charity the society will look at them like that; but if they see themselves as achievers, people of great talents and ready to blossom, the society will take them for that and give them the hand they need.”
For how long have you been in this? Grace beams with smile; joy could be seen all over her. “Before my accident I had been involved in mentoring children.” She continues,
“I’m passionate about children. I help parents identify and groom their children’s talent and make the child to be his or her best.”
With three CDs and the musical video of the fourth CD soon to hit the market, her return to the scene stunned those who saw her during her crisis, especially the children who looked at her from the corner of their eyes. She says, “though few of the children understood my problem, for most of them it was, their first time of seeing someone in a wheelchair. So, they felt I was enjoying myself seating on a chair with wheels; I had to use the opportunity to explain my situation to them. That made them to know that the chair is a mobility-aid.”
And your music? “Presently, I have four CD in the market. My recent work is a song for Nigeria; it celebrates our cultural diversity, the people and the nation as a whole. The video will soon be out. I dedicated two songs in the CD to the country.”
Though the song is enjoying massive airplay in the queen’s home state, Benue, and Jos, where she resides with her family, the songwriter is still battling with the sales and distribution of her CDs to give them the desired massive appeal. “I have been marketing my CDs by myself, but I’m working on getting a marketer, so that, the distribution would move faster and for wider spread.”
Grace, whose intention was never to be a beauty queen had gone to present a paper to an event when providence linked her to Mr. Cosmas Okoli, CEO, Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC), Lagos, the chief advocate for the physically challenged. She informs, “after I recovered from the accident, I became an inspirational speaker and any opportunity I have, I tell my story and people began to know me. I, however, came in contact with Mr. Cosmas Okoli in a workshop, where I presented a paper, he introduced me to the pageant and I went through the flier, checked them up in the Internet and filled the necessary documents and by the Grace of God, I emerged winner.”
“I hope to use my winning to speak on behalf of the over 20 million Nigerians living with disabilities by raising public awareness of their plight and as well influence attitudinal, architectural and social change in the people. In most cases, amenities such as pedestrian bridge, public toilet, bus-stop shelter and others do not cater for the physically challenged. I also hope to emphasise on the campaigns against maginalisation or discrimination of people with disabilities, many of them still suffer rejection from families, relations as well as government at all levels,” she quips.
On stage performance and marriage, the ambassador says, “some times while on advocacy, I sing some of my songs to make people know what I can do. But for marriage, definitely, it has to be after my reign; for now, my work comes first. For now, my work is my number one passion, I think work, I go to sleep thinking of work and all round me is work, which for now is my major concern. I ‘m much concerned of how to effect change, impact on lives and leave a lasting legacy for people living with one physical disability or the other.”