Hi Class of 1938 Fellows!
I’m so sorry I couldn’t be with you today, but at the moment I am in the desert of Jordan studying tribal law and human rights. I am currently on a study abroad program through the International Honors Program and we are studying comparative human rights in Nepal, Jordan, and Chile. I am learning so much and being further equipped for international engagement, but I am sorry I cannot thank you in person for the experience you gave me last summer.
The gift of the Class of 1938 Fellowship was a spectacular one. I spent my summer in Kisumu, Kenya conducting research on disability rights for my honors thesis in Political Science. Throughout my time I discovered many linkages between disability and gender–which was something I never expected to encounter. I found that children are more likely to be born with disabilities if their mother cannot access proper maternal health services, or if they experience domestic violence during pregnancy. I also found that women are almost always the advocates for their disabled child’s education, whereas men often prefer to save money on school fees and not educate their disabled child. Based on these three findings, it is my belief that if we were to increase the bargaining power of women with disabled children through micro-finance or other empowerment programs, disabled children would be more likely to attend school and become a part of their community. Additionally, if we could improve access to maternal health or violence prevention programs, disability could, in many cases, be prevented altogether. While these findings are not yet solidified, I hope to apply for a fellowship after graduation next year that will allow me to continue pursuing this angle of disability rights in Kenya.
Apart from my research, I spent a lot of time with my beautiful host family in Kisumu. My host family is from the states and they have two adopted children. They are currently in the process of adopting a third child, who I first met at a home for special needs children. He was abandoned in a tea field at infancy, and has mild cerebral palsy, but I have no doubt my host family’s love will work wonders in his life. They are a constant inspiration to me, and I learned so much through observation and late night conversations over chai with my host mom. My family was ecstatic for me to work with the kids at Joyland School for the Physically Disabled–a primary and secondary school for 700 disabled children. Not many volunteers make it to Joyland, so my family partnered with me in putting on lots of fun activities on campus. We brought a lending library to campus weekly and let the children read and check out books. We did crafts, sang songs, played games, and shared meals together. My time with the kids at Joyland was the most rewarding part of my summer, and I will never forget them.
Towards the end of my time in Kenya, I decided to take a quick trip through Cape Town, South Africa as a way to unwind and reflect on my experiences. Before leaving Kisumu, I was up late one night doing research because I couldn’t sleep. I stumbled upon a list of 241 partner organizations in a global initiative to end discrimination for people with disabilities. There were no organizations operating in Kenya listed, so clicked on the next one that sounded like it was based in Africa. As I began to read I realized that the work done by the organization, called the Uhambo Foundation, was everything I thought should be done based on my research and experience working in disability rights. I scrolled to the bottom and realized they were based in Cape Town. The next week I was in South Africa and was able to get the last available meeting with the director of social outreach. I interviewed her about their programs and found out they were working on expanding to Kenya, and thus began my partnership with the Uhambo Foundation.
Over the course of last semester I became a co-coordinator for fundraising with Uhambo to establish a wheelchair distribution center just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. The center will provide the east African region with wheelchairs adapted to the rural terrain, employ people with disabilities as wheelchair technicians, and provide peer and parental support groups for the community. I helped fundraise for a matching grant of $15,000 and assembled a team of UNC students to help. The center is expected to be fully operational early next year, and the First Lady of Kenya has agreed to be at the ribbon cutting ceremony in the near future as we break ground for the building. I plan on returning to Kenya this summer and visiting the center, as well as working with the program manager in the Somali refugee camp, and shadowing the Uhambo staff in Cape Town.
I cannot thank the committee enough for your investment in my learning. My summer in Kenya was incredible. I learned so much about disability rights, made a lot of progress on my research for my honors thesis, found my first partnership with an organization I believe in 150%, met amazing people, fell in love with a group of hilarious and wonderful disabled children, discovered a new family, and learned more about myself. I couldn’t be more grateful, and I know my life wouldn’t be the same without your gift. If you ever want to hear more about my research, experience in Kenya, current study program, or future plans, please don’t hesitate in contacting me. Thank you for everything and congratulations to the new recipients of the Class of 1938 Fellowship–prepare yourself for a life-changing experience!
With Sincere Gratitude,