The right to an education
Ashwini is from a rural community in India, and was born with a visual impairment. She is a passionate campaigner for disability rights and has set up a school for disabled children in her community.
I want disabled children to have access to what I was denied.
I first came to know about Leonard Cheshire when I joined the Young Voices movement. We are young people around the world who campaign for the rights of disabled people, supported by Leonard Cheshire.
I joined Young Voices because I am passionate about disabled children going to school. Through education, disabled children can learn the skills they need to find a good job and support themselves and their family in the future. It also gives them a foundation to make their own way in life and fight for their rights, and earn respect within their community. Many people feel shame, fear or embarrassment about disability, because of a lack of understanding. This needs to change. I want disabled children to have access to what I was denied.
I gave up a job with an IT company to campaign for the right to education for disabled people. I set up the Belaku Academy, a school for children with visual impairments from rural areas who face exclusion and discrimination. I organised several fundraising events and asked guests to donate furniture, food, computers and stationery. Local people who read the media coverage about the school gave us money, rice, crops and other provisions, which really made a difference.
Currently space in the school is tight and it can only accommodate 20 students. But I have plans to grow it so that we can teach 50 pupils. I have found land that can be used for physical and social activities such as cricket, yoga and a place to pray. Over the next years, I want to build a separate hostel for boys and girls. I also want to create more classrooms and a separate kitchen and dining area.
My ambition is to be able to extend the school admissions to non-disabled children. This will help them to understand and learn about disability from an early age and challenge negative stereotypes.
I was really proud to be awarded the ‘UN Youth Courage Award for Education’ in 2013 by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Education. I also received the prestigious ‘Queen’s Young Leaders Award’ in 2015. Both awards got lots of coverage in the media and this has really helped with getting support for the school.
I am very thankful to Leonard Cheshire Disability for supporting me with my campaigning, and enabling me to raise awareness of the importance of inclusive education through the media. This has given me the confidence to work on my own and keep going.