Advocating for an Inclusive World

I’m Shegaw Birhanu, alumnus of the Scholars Program at the University of Gondar (UoG). I’m currently working as a public prosecutor at Dabat town court, 60 kilometers from Gondar city. As the adage “the wish is father to the thought” goes, being a lawyer has been my dream since I was a child.

I passed out of the School of Law in October 2020 (UoG) with an LLM and as one of the best performing students in Class of 2020. I also took part in various extracurricular activities.

I lost my sight as a child due to an accident. It was a saddening experience not to have a clinic or hospital in my community to treat and save my eyes. But the sooner you recognize or accept your circumstances, the sooner you will invite the world to see you for who you are. With the help of my father, I enrolled at Saint Raphael Boarding School for Blind, located in Azezo, Gondar city in 2000.

Not disabled but differently abled 

With time, I started to see myself as not disabled but differently abled. I consider my disability to be my ‘unique’ eyeglass to see myself and my place in the world. I know that there may be accidents, mishaps that happen in life. But moving forward demands transforming our circumstances and challenges into opportunities to grow.

I didn’t get a job after earning my LLB from Jimma University.  Searching for work for months without any callbacks is emotionally stressful, physically demanding and awfully disappointing.

I started asking myself ‘What is my purpose, if I cannot pull my own weight after earning a degree?!’

Luckily for me, became a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at the UoG.

Over two years, through various Scholars Program activities and engagements, I quickly built my self-awareness and capabilities to see things the way they are and put my efforts toward overcoming life’s problems. I’m able to tell myself that I am capable of reaching my goals through determination and dedication; and, I realized that I am stronger than the problems I ever – and will ever – face.

Passion and commitment to envision a better world

I took advantage of the training the Scholars Program organized on transformative leadership. I also served as a Scholars’ Council member where we initiated and organized activities like an event on the International Disability Day and Scholars Summer Camp, among others. For me, transformative leadership means having passion and commitment to envision a better world and innovatively engage people and communities to utilize their resources for a greater impact. It implies empowering and collaborating with people in a way that ensures the best match between their performances and capabilities.

We need transformative leaders who understand and promote cultural change towards democratizing the cultivation of leaders at all levels, and enhancing the evolution of inclusive political and economic structures.

By and large, a transformative leader focus on promoting love, truth, freedom, inclusion, peace and collaboration. To me, being a Mastercard Foundation Scholar means being energized by and involved in various topical issues of the day, working in collaboration, promoting innovation, networking and sharing with like-minded youth, sharing the conviction to being part of the solution. By being Mastercard Foundation Scholar,  I developed  the sense of belongingness and collaboratively working to improve the community that I came from, especially youth with disabilities.

Continue pushing for inclusivity, equality and liberty

Personwith disabilities (PwDs) are marginalized within their families, schools, and communities. I envision and work towards a world where PwDs grow, live, and work in an inclusive and integrated society and equally take advantage of economic, social, cultural, political, opportunities. Through my legal practice and community service, I’ll stand for the protection and promotion of the rights and wellbeing of all marginalized groups including PwDs and make them valued and respected members of their communities – in every sort and particularly in the leadership.  

As a concluding remark, let me reiterate the fact that creating a disability inclusive society is less of a pragmatic option when one considers the economic, social, political downsides of exclusion. Numerous research document the economic loss, lack of diversity, low quality of life, that countries with systematic exclusion experience. In light of this, I would like to take this opportunity to humbly urge all Scholars, partner institutions and the Foundation to continue pushing for inclusivity, equality and liberty. 

Shegaw Birhanu’s story is part of a series for International Day for Persons with Disabilities that is highlighting stories from Mastercard Foundation Scholars about the importance of disability inclusion. Continue reading more posts in the series here.