A new film from Young Voices in South Sudan
Ajit, a Young Voices campaigner from Delhi, has just started a one year schools exchange programme in the USA, through the PAX Academic Exchange Mission. He is the first visually impaired person from India to have this opportunity.
He’s made a great start – he has been elected as vice president in his student council, and achieved 100% in his first set of exams. We wish Ajit all the best in his studies!
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.
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.
Young Voices campaigner Ashwini Angadi from India returns to the UN in New York this week to call on world leaders to make sure that disability is included in the post-2015 development agenda that will replace the Millennium Development Goals. In July, Ashwini was in New York to celebrate Malala Day and receive a ‘Youth Courage Award for Education’ from Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Education. Ashwini is co-chairing a new Youth Education Crisis Committee set up by Gordon Brown. The Committee will lead the call of young people around the world for a robust and urgent response to the education crisis, starting with the 1 million Syrian refugee children.
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.
Young Voices campaigner Hadianti Ramadhani has been selected for an International Study Programme in Korea this August, organised by the Korean Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (KSRPD). Hadianti is one of ten overseas candidates selected for the programme.
The programme is designed for young professionals with disabilities who are working in the disability field to share their professional knowledge and skills to promote a New Asian Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities (2013-2022), in partnership with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Courage Nyamhunga, a Young Voices member from Zimbabwe, has been admitted onto the 2013 ‘Discovering Young Leaders’ programme during August and September, organised by the Commonwealth Youth Forum. This follows on from his attendance at 18th Commonwealth Conference on Education held in Mauritius last year.
The programme is an online interactive forum that will inspire, empower and expose young people to views and concepts of leadership, global trends in youth empowerment and the principles of youth development across the Commonwealth. Participants include leaders of youth organisations, aspiring youth leaders, and heads and members of National Youth Councils and youth associations/clubs.
Markson talks to Sam from the Send My Friend to School Campaign
Along with five other Young Voices campaigners from around the world, Markson was at the UN in New York in July to celebrate the 16th birthday of Malala Yousafzai and call on world leaders to take action to make sure all children can go to school. Here’s what he remembers most from the experience:
Malala Day was eye-opening for me. After hearing Malala speak about what she is trying achieve it made me see that in life we need to work extra hard if we are to see the change we want. After all the pain she had undergone Malala was able to show us not only the importance of education for all but also the power to forgive.
I was grateful for the chance to meet Young Voices members from other countries and learn about what they have achieved. This showed me that there is much is still to be done if we are to make the changes and achieve a better world for all.
I also enjoyed meeting members of other organisations like Sam and Abigail from the Send My Friend To School campaign. We exchanged experiences and discussed ways in which we can work together at both national and international levels in the future.
As Malala said, thought the bullet was going to shut her up, they never expected that it release so many voices. We still need to keep fighting to make #EducationForAll and #LeaveNoOneBehind. It is the dream of every Young Voices member and the world at large.
Ashwini Angadi, a Young Voices campaigner from India, received a ‘UN Youth Courage Award for Education’ on 12th July as part of the celebrations for Malala Day.
The award was presented to her at the UN in New York by Gordon Brown, who is currently the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. She was chosen for the award for showing exemplary leadership and perseverance in standing up for the right to education, often against some of the most adverse circumstances.
Born with a visual impairment, Ashwini was brought up in a poor rural community in India. She fought to get an education, and overcame the odds to graduate from Bangalore University with outstanding grades. She gave up an excellent job with an IT firm to work as a facilitator for Young Voices in India, and campaign for the rights of people with disabilities.