By Fatima Umar (YES 2017-2018, Nigeria, placed by IRIS in Bay Village, OH)
My exchange year made me realize two important things. First, volunteering is a way to give back to one’s community. I logged over 100 hours of community service in the U.S. I volunteered with multiple clubs, including my school’s Key Club, where I became the junior class representative and a member of the leadership team. I also tutored children at the West Cleveland Muslim Association. The second important realization was about disability rights. I observed more inclusivity and how accessible everything was for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the U.S. – from more equal employment opportunities to wheelchair-accessible areas, to Braille on almost everything, and even dedicated parking spaces. I learned about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from Mobility International USA (MIUSA) staff during the YES Civic Education Workshop in Washington, DC.
I relate these experiences to what I see back home in Kano State, Nigeria’s most populous state and the commercial hub of northern Nigerian. Despite Kano being Nigeria’s center of commerce, most PWDs are left out of opportunities. One of the major challenges people with disabilities face in Nigeria is a lack of employment due to stigmatization and discrimination. This makes their lives very difficult and leads to degrading subsistence, like street begging. This is why I applied for a Projects For All Workshop follow-on grant with three other YES alumni to organize a two-week entrepreneurship workshop, Rising Entrepreneurs, for PWDs in Kano State.
The chairman of the National Association of Persons with Physical Disabilities (NAPWPD) in Kano helped us recruit participants from low-income families. With the help of NAPWPD staff, our team trained 10 females how to sew throw pillows, which they can do from the comfort of their homes and later sell, and 10 males how to weld wheelchairs, with the goal that they can use these skills to start their own businesses.
During the first
week, the female participants learned how to measure and cut fabric and create different
styles, including their own handmade designs. The men learned to measure and
cut various metals and weld them together to make wheelchair frames. By the end
of the workshop, the female participants learned seven different designs and
how to sew them using pedal-free sewing machines, and each male participant was
able to weld and paint his own wheelchair. Certificates and startup tools were
given to participants to support them in starting their own businesses,
including providing sewing machines to the female participants.
The participants were overjoyed and grateful for the workshop. One participant said, “Being disabled, I never thought I would be able to handle a business, but this workshop has made me cognizant of my ability to make a living from the comfort of my home.” The participants were dedicated and hardworking, and I believe they will keep up this energy as they continue to make use of these skills and help others by passing on the skills they have acquired.
Rising Entrepreneurs was graced with the presence of several Kano State dignitaries, including the former Commissioner of Women’s Affairs, the Chairman of Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), and the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education. The workshop was publicized on radio, television, and local news websites.
I am very grateful
for having the opportunity to touch other people’s lives in a positive way. I
would like to acknowledge the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational
and Cultural Affairs for funding this project, as well as the YES program and
IRIS for the endless support. Sincere thanks to the Niasse International
Foundation, the National Association of Persons with Physical Disabilities Kano
State Chapter, and Marhud Designs for partnering with us. I am grateful to my
amazing YES alumni teammates and volunteers for working effortlessly to make
this project a success.