Former Liberian refugee finds hope in helping others

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Rahime Konneh sits farthest left, beside musician Owen Lee.

Rahime Konneh hopes that his big idea will improve the lives of visually impaired people in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Konneh was the second panellist in Thursday evening’s Racism is Killing Us Softly lecture series, a discussion hosted by Dalhousie’s Black Student Advising Centre in the Student Union Building. This discussion was about the challenges and successes that young black men face.

As a former Liberian refugee in Sierra Leone for several years, Konneh said he was faced with the challenges of war, death and a visual impairment.

“I almost lost hope of pursuing my academic dream because I couldn’t read,” Konneh said.

Konneh’s proposed project, called Ability Over Disability, that he says will bring 150 computers with visual assistive technologies to junior high and high schools in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Visual assistive technology can be computer software, like, can range from computer programs that can read to you or magnify the text on computer screens to optical character recognition systems that that can read off print from a paper documents.

Konneh said he did not know he had glaucoma until he decided to pursue an education in community development studies and ecology in Sierra Leone. Konneh said that having a visual impairment made reading textbooks challenging and caused him to fall behind in class.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in young people like Konneh.

“It was a painful experience and I do not want to revisit it,” Konneh said.

After completing his studies in Sierra Leone without visual assistive technology, Konneh said he found work with two non-governmental organizations where he experienced the hardship of fellow refugees and those affected with HIV.

Konneh moved to Canada in 2010. After working for his friends for a year, Konneh began his studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is now at Dalhousie University where he will receive his double major degree in political science and international development studies in three months.

“When I got here I was fortunate to have access to assistive technologies and so far I have been able to perform academic work efficiently.”

Now, Konneh wants to give back to his Liberian brothers and sisters.

“What can I do as a person who is visually impaired and as a person who faced challenges back in Africa? What can I do at this point after learning from all these experiences?”

Konneh said schools that want to receive these computers must have a minimum of 10 visually impaired students. The schools would have to pay around $150 every six months in order to make Konneh’s project sustainable.

Konneh is raising money to make his proposed project a reality.

“I encourage you tonight that regardless of our individual challenges we can still instil a better life in people.”