By Ashiru Abubakar (YES 2011-2012, Nigeria, placed by American Councils in Jacksonville, IL)
I am Ashiru, a YES alum and Secretary General of the Abuja Association of the Deaf.
During my exchange year, I attended the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD). This was a great privilege for me as a member of the deaf community, providing me with invaluable insights into deaf culture and history, and showing me the potential for achievements of deaf individuals. During my time at ISD, I was actively involved in leadership roles, fostering personal growth and community engagement.
Also, at ISD, I participated in a comprehensive training on emergency response and safety protocol that aimed to equip students like myself, with essential skills to navigate emergencies effectively. This training sparked an idea to implement a similar initiative when I returned home to Nigeria. As a new alumnus, I engaged in community service and volunteer projects with fellow alumni, sharing ideas and developing project proposals.
After graduating from university, I became increasingly concerned about the safety of children with disabilities after reading a newspaper article about the tragic death of a deaf woman and her children in a home fire. It was profoundly saddening to read, and it prompted me to take action. I started to work with other YES alumni with disabilities to develop a project to empower students with disabilities to react in emergency situations. The first project was successfully implemented with funding from a YES Alumni Projects for All Grant in 2021, benefiting more than 700 students with disabilities.
Our initiative has now evolved into Disability Red Alert, and we are committed to training 3,700 students with disabilities across Nigeria in emergency response and preparedness within five years.
With funding from a 2023 YES Alumni Grant, we carried out a series of trainings in four Nigerian states, reaching 281 youth in ten schools for people with disabilities. Participants learned what to do if a fire breaks out at school, home, or the market. They were taught road safety rules and the meaning of road signs, a brief history of the Red Cross, and practical application of first aid and CPR.
Through this initiative, we convinced our guest trainers from the Nigerian Red Cross, Federal Road Safety Corps, and Federal Fire Services to learn basic sign language to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some of the Nigerian Red Cross Branch offices donated first aid kits to the schools. The Federal Fire Services have committed to welcome students to their office to show them firefighting vehicles and tools, and some of the state branch offices of the Federal Road Safety Corps also plan to donate road safety signs to hang on the classroom walls so students can become familiar with road safety rules.
This project has given participants knowledge about important safety measures to protect themselves, their families, and their classmates. It has also created awareness of the need for national emergency and safety agencies in Nigeria to be inclusive of persons with disabilities.
This project would have never happened had it not been for the YES program, which gives opportunities to students to experience the inclusion of people with disabilities in the U.S. Our project team sends special appreciation to the U.S. Department of State, the YES program, the YES Alumni Association of Nigeria, the ten participating schools, and the chairmen of the state affiliates of the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf. This initiative means a lot to us and our communities. We will never be safe until we learn to be safe.