Young Voices make themselves heard in Brussels

Young Voices campaigners at the European Development Days event - Young Voices campaigners and other delegates are seated behind a table, while one person speaks - some audience members are visible. The EU development days banner - eudevdays.eu - is behind the speakers. Young Voices campaigners spoke to a packed room of delegates at the European Development Days in Brussels on 26th November. The Young Voices, from the Philippines, Zambia and Kenya, were hosting a side event on ‘The Power of Young Voices – an innovative approach to inclusive civic engagement focusing on young people with disabilities’. The European Development Days is an annual event that brings together thousands of development stakeholders, practitioners and advocates in informal sessions to exchange best practice, network, and come up with creative solutions to key issues.

The Young Voices campaigners shared the challenges they have experienced as young people with disabilities, and the campaigns they have participated in to bring about change for disabled people in their countries. Delegates debated how development actors could engage better with young people.

Meeting delegates - including Young Voices campaigners - sitting round the tableTwo days later, the campaigners took part in a roundtable at the European Parliament, hosted by Richard Howitt MEP. Together with representatives from EU institutions and civil society they discussed how to harness the power of young voices to promote human rights and include disability in the post-2015 development framework.

View highlights, photos and quotes from the sessions on our Tumblr site.

Living with Disability and Disasters

October 13th is the International Day for Disaster Reduction, and the theme is year is ‘Living with Disability and Disasters’.

Young Voices campaigner Wanja Maina has written a blog about disability and disasters – you can read it on the Huffington Post.

Have your say – the UN Office for Disaster Reduction is conducting a global survey on Disability and Disasters.

Join in the UN Office for Disaster Reductions mass twitter action and tweet: “Disability is NOT inability! I’m supporting this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction #iddr #thisability”.

Posted in Kenya, Young Voices News and tagged

Cracking the glass ceiling: education for girls with disabilities

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. Young Voices campaigner Wanja Maina marks the day with her views on education for girls with disabilities.

Wanja Maina, Young Voices campaigner from Kenya, standing in front of a map of the world
Every year on the 11th of October the whole world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child. There has been huge progress towards eradicating the myths and the challenges that come with being a girl, especially in Africa where patriarchy in entrenched. But being a disabled girl leads to double discrimination. Girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are among the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. What is even worse is that girls with disabilities are denied access to education which greases the wheels of the cycle of poverty that is common to being a woman with a disability.

The global literacy rate for adults with disabilities is as low as 3 per cent. For women with disabilities it is just 1 per cent, according to a UNDP study. This statistic is not just heartbreaking. It is a reflection of denied opportunities for people with disabilities.

It takes me back to 17 years ago when I really wanted to go to school. I was born in an average family in rural Kenya. My friends would give me tales from their school lives, and I was left wondering why I never got to go to school myself. I kept pestering my mother and one day she took me to a tailor who made me my school uniform. She later confessed to me that my older aunts had dissuaded her from taking me to school “until I got healed”, for in Africa disability is seen as an illness.

I was the leading student in the school. Despite being friendly and feeling normal, some other students were so cold towards me, and that made me feel different. Some refused to play with me while others felt that I should take care of their belongings while they played. Looking back my main regret from my younger years is not being able to play as I would have liked.

Things would get bad sometimes and I can imagine how many girls have gone through things like this. Teachers do not expect much from a disabled girl. Sometimes they question why parents even struggle to take them to school in the first place. The disabled girls who are not as strong end up giving up and so do the parents. And so the vicious cycle of disability and poverty continues.

My faith in education and my urge to move on led me to join a very good high school. In this struggle to excel I was shot a lot of times. Not by bullets, like Malala was by the Taliban. But by the negative attitudes of people towards me as a disabled girl. By the people who had minimal faith in my abilities to excel, and the people who thought that it was a waste of time for me to study. Sometimes I felt like they were right but I kept on looking ahead.
Fast forward to August 2013. I have just graduated with a degree in International Business Administration from a prestigious university in Nairobi. During my graduation I was saddened by the fact that I am probably among the few privileged 1% of women with disabilities who have been able to attain literacy levels.

Education for a disabled girl cannot be underestimated. It is a fundamental right that warrants universal access. It is also the golden key to poverty eradication for both the girl and her family. It is not uncommon to see very young disabled girls in the streets begging with small babies by their sides. This could be turned around if those girls had education and careers, and of course access to sexual and reproductive health knowledge.

This African proverb encapsulates this idea perfectly: “If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation.”

As we celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, let’s acknowledge that girls are not homogenous. Being disabled leads to double discrimination. I believe that through education, girls with disabilities can become the successful women they have the potential to be.

Today the first ever High Level Meeting on Disability and Development will take place at the UN in New York. UN member states will come together with civil society to discuss how people with disabilities can be included in development efforts.

In this video, Wanja Maina, Young Voices campaigner from Nairobi, Kenya explains the significance of this meeting.

Young Voices Kenya: making colleges more accessible

A Young Voices campaigner studying at the Kenya Institute of Management has successfully appealed to the college management to consider admitting more students with disabilities. He also urged them to improve access to facilities – the library and many classrooms are situated upstairs and are not accessible for wheelchairs. The appeal is being considered at the moment and the Nyanza group will be following this up to make sure the college takes action.

Campaigner profile: Wanja Maina

Wanja Maina, Young Voices campaigner from Kenya, standing in front of a map of the worldEntrepreneur and charity founder Wanja Maina is currently studying at the United States International University in Nairobi, pursuing a bachelor degree in International business administration. Hannah makes curios and beads to sell locally. This helps to fund her education.

Wanja is a very active Young Voices campaigner. She has helped make a documentary about the lives of disabled people living in Kibera, one of Africa’s biggest slums. She is also the founder of the ‘Friends of Wanja Initiative,’ a mentorship programme at Joy-town primary school which supports people with disabilities to feel empowered to learn.

A Young Voices campaign that Wanja is particularly passionate about is her work with African albinos. Many locals believe that there are magical properties in the blood, bones and skin of people with albinism, a medical condition in which the body produces little or no pigment. She has recently supported a person with albinism to share their story with the media. She is also talking to people locally to help change attitudes and dispel the myths surrounding albinism.

Wanja is currently celebrating the first milestone of this campaign: “The number of albinos living in Africa is not known at the moment, but we are delighted as the government has agreed to officially record and monitor these statistics. Once they have an idea of numbers more action can be taken to support people with albinism.”

Follow Wanja’s Huffington Post blog.

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