Happy International Day of the Girl Child!

Young Voices campaigner Josephine Namirimu in her graduation outfit. She is a wheelchair user.October 11th marks the International Day of the Girl Child, a day to recognise girls’ rights and the challenges that girls face around the world.

Read this great blog from Josephine Namirimu, Young Voices campaigner from Uganda, about her experiences growing up as a girl with disabilities in Uganda. You can read more blogs and stories for the International Day of the Girl Child on Leonard Cheshire Disability’s main website.

Education for girls with disabilities

Here’s Young Voices campaigner Ashwini Angadi from India speaking about the importance of education for girls with disabilities. Ashwini was speaking at the 2nd Annual Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai. More than 850 world leaders, business leaders, government ministers, and education experts attended the forum, including President Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Inspirational women #4: Dianne

This week we have been posting stories of inspirational female Young Voices campaigners to mark International Women’s Day. Here’s Dianne’s story:

Dianne standing in the street with her guitar, next to her crutchesMy name is Dianne. I am 21 years old and I come from the Philippines. My parents both died when I was young. At the age of 11 I was diagnosed with bone cancer. My left leg had to be amputated and I spent two years in hospital.

Accepting my parents’ death and facing cancer at a very young age made my childhood life harder. I had to stop studying for a year because of emotional depression. There were times that I felt like giving up the fight for life. But with the help of a Belgian missionary sister, I was able to recover and cope with my disability. I changed my outlook on life, and began to believe that any form of disability should not stop you achieving what you want to achieve. I continued studying and valued education much more. I decided I wanted to strive hard and inspire people, especially, cancer patients and people with disabilities.

I now consider myself an advocate of people with disabilities and am deeply involved in many advocacy campaigns through Leonard Cheshire Young Voices. I am also passionate about music and I am a member of Musicability, a group of young and talented musicians who are all campaigners with Young Voices.

In September 2012, I was selected as the official young person with a disability delegate from the Philippines to attend and speak at the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities International Conference held at the UN Headquarters in New York City, USA. Last November I was again honored to represent the Philippines and Young Voices in the 2013 European Development Days held in Brussels, Belgium. There, I talked about the achievements and initiatives of the young people with disabilities and how we should be included in international development.

Since I got cancer, every day of my life has been really a miracle. I strongly believe that God has blessed me to live longer, survive the obstacles and trials in life and inspire many people. My life has been journey and I truly appreciate its meaning and value through the love and support of all the people around me and those who believe in my abilities.

Inspirational women #2: Delisa

In the run up to International Women’s Day on March 8th we are posting the stories of some of our inspirational female Young Voices campaigners. Here’s Delisa’s story:

“The Tsunami was like a bad dream”, says Delisa as she tells her story about the terrible event that changed her life when she was seven years old.

Delisa sitting on some steps holding some crutches and a prosthetic leg“On December 26 2004, I was with my mother and sister at our home near the beach in Aceh Besar, near Banda Aceh. Suddenly, a ferocious wind hit my house. I thought it was a huge earthquake. I saw water exploding from the sea and I heard a roaring sound like I had never heard before. I yelled to my mother and then everything went dark.”

Delisa was swept away by the water. When a volunteer found her, she was lying motionless, her legs and arms were broken, but she was still breathing. She was brought to the nearest hospital. The medical team there had to amputate her right leg.

Her mother and her sister were both lost in the Tsunami. Her father and everyone around her motived her to survive and continue with her life. Now 16, she is a senior high school student at a well-known school in Banda Aceh.

In 2013, Delisa joined Leonard Cheshire Young Voices Indonesia to learn more about the rights of young people with disabilities. Through Young Voices she has made many new friends and her confidence has greatly increased, especially in public speaking. As a Tsunami survivor she is invited to many events to tell her story of survival. She is particularly passionate about education, and she uses these events to talk about the obstacles which she and other children with disabilities experience at school, including inaccessible buildings and learning resources.

She says: “I have come a long way as a Tsunami survivor in Aceh. I will not stop here, and I am going to keep fighting for my dreams to make my father proud of me.”

Inspirational women #1: Josephine Namiriru

In the run up to International Women’s Day on March 8th we are posting the stories of some of our inspirational female Young Voices campaigners. Here’s Josephine’s story:

Portrait of Josephine in her wheelchairJosephine is the sixth of seven children from a family in Uganda. She was raised by her mother after her father died when she was three. Shortly before her father’s death, Josephine became disabled due to polio.

She started going to primary school when she was five. Life at school wasn’t easy. She was stared at and whispered about by her classmates, and felt very alone. But for her, learning was fun, and she was determined to succeed.

After primary school, her mother sadly broke it to her that her education would have to come to an end as she couldn’t afford to send her to secondary school. However, Josephine wasn’t ready to give up on her education. In their search for a way to keep Josephine at school, they came across the Nkokonjeru Cheshire Home, who agreed to sponsor Josephine with the help of the Lillian Foundation.

Her new life started when she joined the Cheshire Home at the age of 15. With the Home’s support, she went to secondary school. She went on to University to study Business Administration, sponsored by the Government, graduating in January 2014.

In 2009, she joined Leonard Cheshire Disability’s Young Voices, a global network of young campaigners with disabilities. She became an advocate of change with a burning desire to make a difference and reduce the difficulties faced by disabled children in school. She knew that while she kept going despite so many challenges, many children with disabilities would give up on education due to the many challenges they face at school.

Through Young Voices she has taken part in many successful campaigns and her confidence has greatly increased. She led a group of five young voices members who successfully lobbied for a ramp to be constructed for the Catholic Church in their community. At University she successfully ran for the post of Guild Representative Council for people with disabilities. She used this post to come up with new ways to get the voices of students with disabilities heard, such as an awareness raising week.

One of the best moments in her life was when she was given the opportunity through Leonard Cheshire Disability to come to London and work shadow Lynne Featherstone, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development. She was very inspired to meet with someone who shared her passion for disability and gender issues. The experience has motivated her even more to strive to achieve great things and make a difference for women and people with disabilities in Uganda and around the world.

Josephine is very happy with what she has achieved so far. But she feels that her journey has just started, and she hopes to continue her studies, specialising in gender. Her message to all women on International Women’s Day, especially for those with disabilities is:

“It is possible; it only takes passion, determination, persistence and prayer. You can become that important figure that you have admired all your life. The challenges that you meet along the way can always be overcome.”

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.

Young Voices member speaks out about the importance of ICT for girls with disabilities

Rosemarie Rammitt, a Young Voices member from Guyana with a visual impairment, spoke at a high profile event celebrating the International Day for Girls in Information and Communications Technology (ICT). A number of influential people attended the event, including the Prime Minister of Guyana. Rosemarie spoke about the impact that ICT can have on the lives of girls with disabilities. Laptops, iPhones, blackberries , the internet – all of these help to bridge the gap that exists between people with disabilities and the rest of society, especially as software advances and becomes more accessible. She called on everyone to take part in ensuring the rights of girls with disabilities are fulfilled using ICT.