Collaborating for Inclusive Education in Ethiopia

Mekonnen Chanie and Sindu Alefaw took a flight to Rwanda in August this year to participate in a gathering of young people from across the world. It was the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit that annually brings together motivated and transformative leaders: Mastercard Foundation Scholars, thinkers, mentors, topic experts, and innovators to discuss and find solutions to challenges within their communities and beyond.

Among a group of 250 Scholars, they were the only two people living with visible disabilities. However, they didn’t let their physical challenges stop them from participating actively. They returned to the University of Gondar with increased determination to give back to their communities and achieve their aspirations.

“Of all the events and activities, meeting other Scholars was the highlight of my experience at the [Baobab Summit]. They were very articulate and active participants throughout the Summit in illustrating their plans of creating a better world for their peers who didn’t have the opportunities they have had since joining the Scholars Program. They can be resources and a support system for us to identify feasible and productive areas of intervention to give back to their communities. They set the level we have to aspire to reach in giving back to the community,” said Mekonnen, an undergraduate law student who plans to advocate for disability rights and develop inclusive policies in Ethiopia.

“During the Summit, I had opportunities to speak with Scholars from all over the world,” said Sindu. “We enjoyed sharing our experiences as Scholars in different institutions. I have met many Scholars and it surprised me how confident they were in their plans and experiences on how to change the world.” Sindu is also studying law as an undergraduate at the University of Gondar who aspires to serve her community as a lawyer.

Mekonnen and Sindu represent a community of 60 Mastercard Foundation Scholars at the University of Gondar, 92 percent of whom present at least one type of disability (hearing, visual, or motor impairment).They have set high academic goals and exchange ideas for giving back to their communities.

Creating an Inclusive Environment for Education

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is built on the premise that all young people should have the opportunity to obtain a quality education and pursue their aspirations. The goal of the Program is to develop a cohort of next-generation leaders, who support social transformation and economic growth, particularly in Africa. At the University of Gondar, the Scholars Program is recruiting academically talented young people with disabilities and providing the support they need to complete tertiary education and transition into the world of work.

The Scholars are engaged in a number of activities to learn conflict management, leadership, and communications skills, as well as emotional intelligence, time management, team building, decision making, and problem solving. Engagement in these activities is developing capacity of young people with disabilities to gain marketable skills so that they can be highly competitive in the job market.

The Scholars are also creating a community at the university to support each other, lend a hand, and become positive role models for others living with disabilities. Within a culture of volunteerism, they are inspiring and motivating many others on campus to serve their communities and create an impact.

On November 28th, 2018, the University, Foundation and government of Ethiopia celebrated the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Gondar, in the city of Gondar, Ethiopia. It is a ten-year partnership between the University of Gondar, Queen’s University, and the Mastercard Foundation to enable 450 Scholars to complete a university degree and receive support services, institutional access, and transitions support to become transformative leaders.

As part of the partnership, Queen’s University will support the University of Gondar as it develops the first undergraduate occupational therapy curriculum and program in Ethiopia. The University of Gondar’s vision is to serve as a Centre of Excellence for disability and rehabilitation services and support, and pioneer an inclusive education system for the region. It is estimated that 15 million people in Ethiopia are living with disabilities, representing about 17.6 percent of the population The World Bank and World Health Organization, 2013.

Piloting New Models to Plan for the Future

This partnership will pilot new models of Scholar support services by integrating accessibility tools and learning materials into the Scholars Program package of wraparound support. It rests on shared values to promote inclusive education and create viable opportunities for people living with disabilities.

The partnership will also inform the Foundation’s programming as we deepen our reach to young people in Africa who have been traditionally excluded from tertiary education and employment programs. It will highlight their successes and achievements and how they overcome barriers to socio-economic participation and other challenges they face in their homes and communities.

The University of Gondar has a vision for people living with disabilities to occupy positions of influence and leadership in society. Through the implementation of the Scholars Program, it is hoping to realize its vision – so that Scholars like Mekonnen and Sindu can achieve their aspirations of becoming lawyers and transforming perspectives and policies in Ethiopia to better serve people living with disabilities across the country.

Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been annually observed on 3 December around the world. The theme for this year’s IDPD is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. This theme focuses on the empowering persons with disabilities for the inclusive, equitable and sustainable development envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.