At just 20 years old, Edward Ndopu has founded an organization to advocate for education for children with disabilities.
At a Pierson College Master’s Tea Thursday, Ndopu told the audience that 98 percent of children living with disabilities do not go to school, especially in developing countries. He described Global Strategy on Inclusive Education (GSIE), an organization he founded to campaign for education opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I want to know someone with disabilities embarking on great things,” he said, adding that without an education, people cannot improve their socioeconomic status or reach their potential.
Born in Namibia and raised in South Africa, Ndopu was diagnosed with skeletal muscular atrophy as a child and was not expected to live past age five. Fifteen years later, he became the first African student with a disability to attend college in North America. A graduate of the African Leadership Academy, Ndopu is an undergraduate at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
“I am not a miracle story; I am a possible story,” he said, adding that other people with disabilities need a strong role model to dispel the feelings of pity usually associated with disability, and that he thinks he can play that part.
Ndopu said that his work is not focused on advocating for the specific rights of people with disabilities, but on their right to an education. He added that 80 percent of the world’s disabled people live in developing countries.
Education initiatives such as 1GOAL, a campaign for universal education launched by Queen Rania of Jordan, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals have pledged to grant educations to over 69 million children by 2015, but Ndopu said he thinks these programs are flawed because they focus on minority groups without recognizing the degrees of marginalization within those categories. For example, he said while girls are generally a disadvantaged group, girls with disabilities are even more ostracized than able-bodied girls. He added that he thinks the UN mistakenly believes that any changes it institutes will “trickle down” to all marginalized groups.
GSIE strives to publicize the global negligence of people with disabilities, he said, adding that he believes people with disabilities who obtain an education go on to become active citizens in their communities.
Ndopu said he thinks integrating people with disabilities into mainstream schools would be beneficial to all students because children would learn to interact with those who have disabilities. He added that to make this possible, schools may have to design special programs to accommodate people with special needs.
“If parents want their child to get a mainstream education, they [shouldn’t] need to go through obstacles,” he said.
Ndopu described GSIE as a “two-pronged solution,” with a policy side and an activism side. He said he hopes the policy side will one day work as a consultant for the UN. He already has orators, radicals and artists who collaborate on GSIE’s activism campaigns.
Two students interviewed said they found the talk eye-opening.
Amal Ga’al ’14 said Ndopu made her aware of a new aspect of universal education.
“When I’ve thought of university education, I’ve never really considered a strategy focusing on inclusive education for students living with disabilities,” she said.
Kristof Kelemen, a visiting PhD student from Hungary, said he volunteered at a school with students with disabilities, and was happy that Ndopu was invited to speak. He added that while the lack of education for people with disabilities is a crisis, he believes it is a problem that can be solved.
GSIE will be conducting a peace and solidarity march on Dec. 3 to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.