by Zahra Baitie:
Edward Ndopu is the founder of Global Strategies on Inclusive Education (GSIE) and an advocate for children living with disabilities. Born in Nambia and raised in South Africa, Ndopu was diagnosed with skeletal muscular atrophy as a child. Doctors did not expect him to live past age five. Today, however, Ndopu is twenty years old and an undergraduate at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada — making him the first disabled student from Africa to attend a North American college. I interviewed him after he spoke at a Pierson’s Master Tea on November 11.
Q: You describe the denial of mainstream education to children living with disabilities in developing countries as “the 21st century’s greatest injustice.” Why do you believe that this particular issue should be prioritized highest on the educational agenda?
A: According to UNESCO, ninety percent of children living with disabilities in developing countries DO NOT go to school. This is a travesty of justice. Still, the situation is worse. This figure does not reflect the hardships faced by students who have access to ill-equipped and ill-prepared educational facilities. Despite the basic and inarguable importance of this issue, it has yet to cause anything but the least audible echo in the hallways of power. Each and every day this gravely shameful shortfall is overlooked and swept under the rug of global policy discussion. Children living with disabilities in the global south are being deprived of their right to basic education because policy makers have failed to institutionalize inclusiveness. Notwithstanding a myriad of policy frameworks which recognize, amongst others, the educational rights of persons with disabilities – integrating children living with disabilities into the regular education system remains a negligible or ignored factor to achieving the millennium development goal of universal education. If we, as a global community, allow this to continue, we would have colluded with possibly the greatest injustice of the twenty-first century.
Q: What makes your initiative, the Global Strategy on Inclusive Education, different from current legislative frameworks or policies geared toward inclusive education?
A: Simply put, GSIE is predicated on the power of individuals to mobilize large groups for positive change.
Q: Why do you believe that young people will solve the most challenging problems of our time?
A: Young people face grave socioeconomic barriers that limit opportunities for social mobility. These barriers include extreme poverty and the denial of a quality education amongst others. What is more, young people constitute the majority of our societies. As far as I’m concerned, because human development issues affect young people on an epic scale, they should be involved in the discourse of their own socioeconomic empowerment. Young people are capable of articulating their dreams, hopes and aspirations as well as their fears, limitations and dissatisfaction. It is a fallacy to believe that we cannot. Poverty, disease and institutionalized discrimination will be combated by our generation because we have the tenacity, energy and resilience to do it.
Q: What is your call to action to Yalies in terms of furthering your cause?
A: I want a GSIE chapter at Yale. With your intelligence, brilliance, talent and imagination, you are in a powerful position to construct the identity of institutions everywhere, ensuring that children and youth with disabilities have a voice in them.
Q: Tell me about the book you’re writing?
A: Look out for it in 2014!
Zahra Baitie ’14 is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact her at email@example.com.