‘Everything was a highlight for me’

23 July 2018

Maria outside the UN in New YorkIt’s an eventful and exciting time of year in the world of international development. A few weeks ago, the United Nations’ 11th annual Conference of State Parties (COSP) took place in New York and Leonard Cheshire attended this key event in the international calendar.

The Conference welcomes countries and disability activists from around the world to discuss progress on how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is being implemented. 

Our global youth advocate, Maria Njeri, 25 from Kenya was able to join us in New York to take part in the discussions around the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries and share her experiences of growing up with cerebral palsy in Nairobi. 

We caught up with Maria to find out more about her trip and her highlights from the conference.

What was your highlight of COSP?

Everything was a highlight for me. The very fact that I was in the United Nations, Convention of State Parties representing Leonard Cheshire was a highlight.

I really enjoyed attending a roundtable on women and girls with disabilities, as it really exposed me to issues around gender equity and the role of women with disabilities’ in the general women's movement and feminists with disabilities.

I was also very interested in a lot of the discussions on policies and practices relating to information and communications technology and assistive technologies and how they can support inclusion and access

I learned assistive technologies are more about meeting basic needs, than the end game rewards as they are often portrayed.

Now I have a little background knowledge and can question what assistive technologies are available in Kenya.

Data was a popular discussion topic. I attended some events that focused on improving disability statistics, measuring inequalities.

Data plays a key role towards understanding the implications of accessibility, services provisions, inclusion and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The most important highlight was the echo of many — now is time for the youth to take up the mantle towards fighting for their rights and the disability movement. Just like the generations before have achieved, we need to give youth a platform for opportunities.

Thus the launch of the global leadership and mentorship advocacy programme by Leonard Cheshire is very influential and timely.

What surprised you the most?

I was surprised most by the fact that the global disability movement is so big and immensely devoted to the rights of people with disabilities.

I imagined only a roundtable of few stakeholders that deliberate on the present and future conditions of people with disabilities.

I was surprised to see so many people from different parts of the world, with different disabilities, who go through the same challenges and gaps, talk the same ‘victory’ language and genuinely involved in finding solutions in a global context.

I was also surprised by the interest of people without disabilities who also work to meet the needs and rights of people with disabilities.

Who was the most interesting person you met?

Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda: I think every young person with a disability should meet and interact with Dr Pineda. Firstly he has an amazing list of creditable achievements with a courageous story. He epitomises the message: nothing is impossible, and nothing should stop you from pursuing your life's desires and taking the noble task for fighting for their rights.

Lauro Purcil is a visually impaired and speech impaired global activist. Every time I listened to him, I kept thinking he is so brave. Mr Purcil was an encouragement to me that, despite how you speak, you must tell the world your message. The world doesn't need a fluent speaker, the world needs solutions and hope.

What did you think of New York?

It was my first time in the US and New York was incredible, just like in the movies.

The architecture, iconic monuments, and the subway. New York is also a very fast paced city where everyone seems to be on a mission.

It has a motivating feeling to be a go-getter. However, I do need more time to better know the city.

Based on what you learned from the conference, what work would you like to do next with Leonard Cheshire?

I would really want to work ahead on the global leadership and mentorship advocacy programme for youth with disabilities.

As the youth take the mantle forwards in the disability movement, I’d like to be one of the leading young people alongside Leonard Cheshire to champion the opportunity.

I really want to work with Leonard Cheshire on the design and implementation of their policies and practices on their projects in the global index.

Maria Njeri is a participant in our 2030 and Counting project, which aims to assist youth and DPOs to share their stories and data trends with duty bearers through social media, and national and global advocacy events in order to ensure disability-inclusive policies are implemented.

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