More progress in Guyana please

2nd November marks the third anniversary of the Guyana Persons with Disabilities Act. Young Voices campaigners have issued a press release saying that minor progress has been made since the Act came into force and are calling on members of Parliament to support and hasten the process of implementation.

The President of the Young Voices group in Linden, Teshawn Rodeny, says: “Persons with disabilities, although recognised by the law as equal citizens of Guyana, continue to be forced into the dark recesses of our society due to social injustice.”

Posted in Guyana, Young Voices News and tagged

Campaigner profile: Norris Cummins, Guyana

Norris Cummins

Norris Cummins really enjoys his job. He is a graphic designer and runs his own business which he has called “Footworks Inc”. Norris uses his feet to do almost everything, including using the computer, as he has no use of his hands.

Norris was born with cerebral palsy and only started to walk at the age of 11. His family have always been really supportive and encouraged him to get a good education. He realised his passion for Graphic Design while studying IT and this motivated him to set up his own business. Sometimes people question whether he’ll be able to do a job efficiently because of his disability – but he always proves them wrong.

Norris joined Young Voices Guyana in March 2009 and since then has been a very active campaigner. One of the campaigns he was proud to take part in was distributing 200 musical and promotional CDs about disability to minibus and taxi drivers in Guyana. After the campaign people with disabilities reported experiencing less discrimination when trying to access public transport.

Norris’s message to the world is: ‘People with disabilities have abilities. Stop discrimination. Promote and fulfil their rights.’

Scholarships for people with disabilities in Liberia

J Swaray Kolleh

My name is J Swaray Kolleh and I am a member of Young Voices Bopolu, Liberia. I have a physical disability and am unable to hold anything with my right arm. Before joining Young Voices I rarely went out in public and my parents always thought of me as a burden. I am now the secretary of Young Voices Bopolu. I chair meetings, plan campaign strategies with the group, and meet with local and national authorities. It’s really built my confidence.

Recently we found out that of all the scholarships awarded in the county of Bopolu, not one has gone to a disabled person. We have been very persistent in campaigning to change this, using Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to education. We have lobbied the county authorities and built support among people who have influence with the District Representative.

As a result, a Scholarship position at the SMART Institute College in Monrovia was awarded to Young Voices Bopolu. The scholarship is going to me. I’m so excited and my parents are really proud. I can’t believe that I’m leaving Bopolu to attend college in Monrovia.

But our campaigning doesn’t stop there. We are currently advocating for the County’s scholarship committee to approve our resolution that 15% of all scholarship programs are awarded to people with disabilities.

Making transport accessible in Bhopal

Young Voices in Bhopal, India have successfully campaigned for announcements to be made about disabled compartments at their local railway station. When they first raised the issue they didn’t get a response. But they refused to give up, and after continuous pressure on the station master, all station announcements now include information about disabled compartments.

Young Voices campaigners in Sri Lanka urge for the ratification of the UNCRPD

Young Voices campaigners from Sri Lanka met with the Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Department in June 2013. The main aim of the meeting was to get the Minister’s support for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and turning the pending Disability Rights Bill into law as soon as possible.

The Sri Lankan government signed the UNCRPD in March 2007, but it has not yet been ratified by parliament. The Disability Rights Bill has been pending for the last 7 years. A commitment to these two laws would make a huge difference for disabled people in Sri Lanka.

The Minister responded very positively to their requests. During the meeting he telephoned the Minister of Social Services directly and asked him to take the steps required to ratify the UNCRPD. They agreed to speak again prior to the next cabinet meeting about what needed to be done to take this forward. The Minister also confirmed that he would be speaking to the President of Sri Lanka to get his support for ratifying the UNCRPD as soon as possible.

The Minister also agreed to nominate and sponsor Ishan Jalill, President of Young Voices Sri Lanka, to participate in the Malala Day events in July at the UN Headquarters in New York as one of the government representatives.

The Minister said that the government of Sri Lanka has identified the Young Voices movement as a leading, vibrant and effective initiative. They are very keen to support Young Voices and ensure the rights of people with disabilities in Sri Lanka are respected.

Making transport more accessible for disabled people in the Philippines

Young Voices members in the Philippines have been busy lobbying to make transport more accessible in Manila. They negotiated with the management of the Light Railway Transit to repair escalators and elevators that were not working in various train stations. They have said that they will prioritise the repairs to be finalised by summer 2013. The Metro Rail Transit has also allowed Young Voices to post tarpaulins in all 15 train stations to promote the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabilities and the Young Voices campaign.

A new committee for people with disabilities in Tanzania

Young Voices in Tanzania met with the Minister of Health and Social Welfare to advocate for a national committee for people with disabilities. The Minister listened to their views and has announced to parliament that a committee for people with disabilities will be established by the Ministry before the end of the year.

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.

Posted in Kenya, Taking Action and tagged ,

Young Voices campaigners from India overcome the odds to achieve outstanding exam results

Young Voices member from India Kartik Sawhney

Young Voices campaigner from India Kartik Sawhney almost didn’t get the opportunity to study science at school because of his visual impairment. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) was not convinced Kartik would be able to handle the ‘visual inputs’ – graphs, diagrams and models – required for science. He wrote more than two dozen letters to the CBSE, had an NGO campaign and his school negotiate for him. He has proved all the efforts were worth it by scoring a 95% aggregate in science with computers and he is now off to Stanford University to study computer science.

Meanwhile, another Young Voices campaigner, Vibhu Sharma, became the first visually impaired student in India to write her Board exams with the help of JAWS screen-reading software. She passed her exams with flying colours, with an overall aggregate mark of 90%, and came top of the year in Multimedia and Web Technology. Young Voices have been campaigning tirelessly for over a year to make this happen. Vibhu went to the CBSE office several times, to give them a demo of how she used computer and explain how it made people who are visually impaired independent. Just two days before the Board Exams, the CBSE took a giant step forward by allowing all visually challenged students to use computers with JAWS, a major policy change and a great achievement for Young Voices.