Did you go to school?

21 January 2016

Clare Pelhamby Clare Pelham

It sounds like a ridiculous question. Of course you went to school. And so did everyone you know. It's where you made your first and, often, best friends. It's where you learned to read and write and where you began your education.

But millions of disabled children in Africa and Asia do not go to school, cannot go to school. And desperately want to go to school.

Developing LivesThat is why this year at Leonard Cheshire Disability we are setting a goal to raise £1 million more in 2016 to enable 20,000 more people with disabilities across Africa and Asia to go to school or get the training they need to be job ready. It's hard to imagine when you talk in millions and thousands what difference that money can make to a single child or young adult. But sometimes a picture tells a story. That is my hope when people see Leonard Cheshire Disability's international photography exhibition, Developing Lives, running at the oxo@gallery on London's Southbank this week.

The exhibition captures fascinating images of the amazing work being carried out by our staff and partners in Kenya, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. Here, the charity is delivering life-changing projects to support disabled children into education, and disabled adults into jobs and entrepreneurship through training and small business loans.

Two visually-impaired Kenyan schoolchildren holding handsThese photographs provide a vivid insight into the lives of disabled people in developing countries in Africa who are overcoming social, cultural and financial challenges to receive an education and earn a living. The photos show lives affected by disease, conflict and poverty, but also stories of hope, struggle, independence and achievement against the odds.

They show the sheer delight of a child loving school, relishing school and having fun at school. I recently sat in a primary school classroom in Kenya and saw first-hand how the inclusive education was bringing disabled and non-disabled children side by side in the classroom, building understanding that will hopefully last a lifetime. Through our livelihoods projects, I saw how disabled business owners were creating change in the communities by running successful enterprises and being accepted for what they have to offer, and not defined by their disability.

Photos can provide a rare glimpse into another world, giving us a window into the lives of others. Some photos move us so much, that we are propelled from silent observation into action.

Two girls playing at schoolBecause there is so much more that can be done. We hope our exhibition will be thought-provoking and challenging, that it will leave a lasting impression on people and create conversations about how we can truly achieve the goal of a world where every person is treated equally. We want every disabled person to have the same opportunities to gain an education, to earn a living, to contribute to society and be independent - to have the freedom to live the lives they choose. This underpins everything we do.

Please help us achieve this goal by supporting our international work. You can find out more by visiting leonardcheshire.org/international or by texting LIVES to 70660 to donate £3.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

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