This profile was prepared when John Thébault was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
The New Idea
Jean Thébault, a Catholic priest, believes that charity, when limited in meaning to giving money, increases dependence and diminishes the dignity and self-respect of disabled people. The most important dimension of rehabilitation, according to "Father John," as he is known by all in Ghana, is psychological, and occurs when the individual takes on responsibility for himself or herself as well as for others. Father John has put this philosophy into practice with a simple and powerful program that provides wheelchairs upon the recipient's presentation of a viable "life plan" that involves a livelihood other than begging. The wheelchair program is the stepping stone to a mutual support association for the disabled that initiates new members by helping him or her to realize that life plan and by enabling the new member to assist others in realizing their life plans. Participants develop a sense of their potential to become independent, self-supporting members of a caring community and become role models for other disabled people. As a group, they constitute the rump of a social movement for the psychological emancipation of West Africa's disabled street beggars.