I was born preterm weighing just 2kg and all the odds were stacked against me medically, including the ability to read and write even if I should survive. Defying every medical diagnosis, I walked and ran, grew faster than my mates at the age of 7 months. My father introduced me early to books, and by the time I was a year and a few months old, I would identify and try to pronounce every representation of what I saw in my story books.
By the time I was 2 years old, a complication of poliomyelitis and injection paralysis left me crippled. My mother insisted that my sisters carry me on their backs to school from the age of 3. My father would buy and read story books to me every night and my aunt in California would bring her daughter’s old story books and piano for me every time she visited Nigeria. Born in an era when having any form of disability attracted a lot of stereotypes including the myth that you were accursed, I faced a lot of stigma and discrimination in my teenage years that several times I contemplated suicide. But one thing stuck with me, the images of all my story books! Oftentimes, I would tell myself that I could do better than all those who were bullying me just like the characters in my story books – Snow White, Hop ‘O My Thumb, Mary Poppins, Thumbelina etc.
When I had no friends, my books became my best friends and I am grateful for that experience because it contributed greatly in charting the course of my life. Today, I can walk and go anywhere on my own. I run a non-profit supporting other women and girls with disabilities, orphans, other vulnerable women and children in the areas of education, health and economic empowerment.
I am who I am today because some people invested in my education when other children with disabilities and even those without disabilities had no opportunity to go to school. I believe that education is the most important opportunity that guarantees the future of a child. Experts estimate that more than 57% of primary school aged children in Africa are not in school. The impact of COVID-19 has further worsened the situation. The majority of African children are dropping out of school, having their futures truncated because of the dwindling resources of parents, lack of mentors and a leadership structure to help them envision and create a future for themselves. If nothing is done, potential will be wasted and destinies will be lost, the illiteracy gap will increase and a dependent generation will continue.
The denial of a child’s right to education is the disruption of a future and a loss to the world. I volunteer with the African Orphan Educational Foundation because it holds the promise of a future for Africa’s children, investing in their lives today for a better tomorrow. Together we can make a difference – support AOEF!