On May 30th 11 am in the morning at Taye Belay Hotel’s conference hall a monumental event took shape. Over the years a project, which would impact hundreds, if not thousands, of talented individuals with disabilities, was in the making. Presently, in 2009, this vision became a reality. The Master Card Foundation has pledged assistance to the University of Gondar by granting funds of up to 24.2 million dollars over the next 10 years. With all expenses covered, the project will educate the regions youthful talent who are disabled.
The workshop that took place in Gondar centered on project sensitization for national and regional stakeholders and partners. By creating opportunities through inclusive, quality higher education the University of Gondar & CBR in association with the Master Card Foundation and its stakeholders will educate up to 450 disabled students (290 undergraduate students and 160 postgraduate).
Upon welcoming the guests on the festive occasion Dr. Solomon the CBR director acknowledged the importance of the break through achievement. The disabled in our society have been ‘overlooked and marginalized’ he said and their contribution to our country can be of paramount use. Dr. Solomon stressed that the Master Card Foundation School Program aims to “help the disabled” to provide them access so that they can “explore their potential”.
Stakeholders and partners from all over Ethiopia attended the event that drew media coverage from various outlets.
Dr. Desalegn Mengesha, the President of the University of Gondar, in his opening speech, assured the guests in attendance that a lot of work is being done for the disabled. The President went on to say that programs that promote and benefit the handicapped should be a priority. “There are many students with potential” Dr. Desalegn said, “but because of disability and lack of funds they cannot flourish.” Dr. Desalegn expects that this program will end that perception.
In closing his speech he reiterated that until the programs are concluded it will take the efforts of all partners and stakeholders to advance the cause. “We cannot do it alone” he declared, “other government officials and outside organizations must assist to bring progress for the disabled.”
The program provides an opportunity for those who are visually, physically and hearing impaired. The opportunity to be selected will give them access to the facilities, education and funds that will allow them to succeed in their desired fields. The Master Card Foundation’s independent Global Foundation is a top 10-funding agent that works on education, financial inclusion and livelihood.
In accordance with integrating the disabled in academia the goal of the program according to Mr. Yifokire Tefera is to unleash the capabilities of these fine individuals. “We cannot restrict the talented,” he said. He continued by saying that underestimating the potential of the disabled is wrong.
For instance, the hotel industry in Ethiopia was referenced. Its inaccessibility via entrances that discriminates indirectly towards the impaired is but a small example of the hardships that the disabled go through. Proper ramp placement near entrances is just one in a number of things that could improve their situation.
After the scheduled lunch had ended an in depth question and answer session commenced with Dr Mikyas Abera and Mr. Yifokire Tefera. Guests from various sectors took part in discussing the way forward. And others often showed their satisfaction with the progress being made. One comment stood out amongst the others though. Miss Shitaya Astawesew, a disabled woman, spoke of the value that this program would have on people with disabilities. She began by expressing her appreciation for the University of Gondar and its commitment to educate all people.
Though she seemed to be of good nature at the event she wanted to conceptualize for the guests her experiences as a disabled women. Miss Shitaya shared her story of trying to attend an ‘anonymous university’ in Ethiopia. “When I entered into the university to get an education” she said, “I was rejected by the registrars office not because of my score, but because I was handicapped”. Her IQ was not measured. Therefore, Miss Shitaya was not given the opportunity to be educated. Before she could complete her argument to be admitted the registrars mocked her for even trying. She later stressed the need to incorporate openness for the disabled to integrate them in schools and outside life.
UOG is the first University to assist in this way and she was pleased with the dedication of Gondar’s top-flight institution. Others in attendance also showered UOG with praise for its achievement and tenacity. The Master Card Foundation School program will give those people who were overlooked a chance to explore their abilities.
The scholars will enroll in academic and nonacademic programs receiving unmatched support during their stay at the University of Gondar. The scholarship will cover all costs including tuition fees, academic support, trainings, medical insurance, in-campus accommodations, learning devices and monthly allowances.
After its initial phase is complete, intellectuals from other Horn of Africa nations will be able to enroll. Four African countries, outside of Ethiopia, among them, Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan and Djibouti will have the option of sending their talented disabled students to the University of Gondar for a chance of a lifetime. This program that spans 10 years will increase in scope furthering its cause to the community and the country. From the looks of it the University of Gondar will be significant in catering to disabled students, at home and abroad, shedding light on the overlooked and forgotten.
By Samuel Malede| Public and International Relations Directorate