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Planning for her Future, Writing her Life’s Script

Using Challenges to Learn and Grow

I’m Bethlehem Ayalew, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at the University of Gondar (UoG) in Ethiopia. I’m the first born of farming parents and was raised in the rural village of  Dembecha, West Gojjam, Ethiopia. There was a primary school in the village which I attended until grade six but I had to leave my family behind and move to the adjoining town of Bure to continue my schooling until grade 12. I’m  currently in fourth year, studying physiotherapy.

I have an impairment on my right leg. It affects my movement  but I only become conscious of it when I hear people talking about me. People may talk directly or indirectly about my inability and hearing them say negative things used to affect my mood and moral. But I pushed through and here I am, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, planning my future better and changing my life’s script. I believe that my determination at that time helped me to do better today.

Strong sense of responsibility

I’m an adventurer and love to discover and try new things. As first born,  I developed a strong sense of responsibility toward others and I chose physiotherapy because I want to help people, especially those living with disabilities. Eventually, I hope to do a Master’s degree in occupational therapy so I can further understand my clients’ needs and help them manage their challenges.

I love and respect my parents, and before joining UoG, my family’s support played an important role in my life, especially my aunt and my close friends who helped me economically and psychologically. Now, staff, mentors, and fellow Scholars are changing my life acting as guides and providing a strong support system.

My most difficult life challenge has been the negative attitudes people have towards people with disabilities.

Adapting to campus life was a bit challenging as well– new environment and study methods, peer pressure, course loads– and in my first semester I did not score well. But I took it as a lesson and did exceptionally well the second semester.  Challenges and obstacles are keys to learning. they made me work harder and improve.

What I want you to know about me is that I appreciate myself for what I’m able to do. I love myself, I respect others and I believe that if I work hard,  I’ll be successful. I think not only for and about myself, but also about helping others within my reach.

Need to change negative perceptions

Thinking broadly, the work being done for persons with disabilities (PwDs) is encouraging and commendable. But it is not enough. The majority still experience harsh conditions.

To improve the lives of PwDs and create a better tomorrow for all, everyone, including institutions should do their part.

For example, education is key to progress, and we have to prioritize providing support, assistance, and services to students with disabilities to help them stay in school and achieve better in life. For this to be successful, society also needs to change its negative perceptions about PwDs and include them in all aspects of life. For our part, PwDs need to demonstrate our competencies, take chances, and work hard with perseverance and commitment. We have to show that disability does not mean inability and everyone, not just people living with disabilities need support and training to succeed.

People living with disabilities are and will be winners. What we need is opportunity, like the one I received, to make our lives brighter, so we don’t have to stumble over the obstacles we face today!!!

Bethlehem’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.