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Jennifer

Jennifer, CAMFED Association member and disability advocate, Ghana

As an education activist, I advocate for the rights of marginalized young people, especially persons with disabilities and girls. I mentor and guide them, helping them become leaders in their communities and ensure their voices are heard. As a CAMFED Association member, knowing that I am actively involved in creating educational opportunities for girls and disadvantaged young people brings me immense fulfillment.

I spent my early years in a small village in the Central Region of Ghana, living with my parents, siblings, and extended family. Growing up, I didn’t realize the full extent of our financial challenges, as my family did everything they could to ensure I had a meal at the end of each day.

I was, however, aware of the lack of quality education opportunities in my underserved village – especially for girls. I struggled academically, finding reading and speaking English particularly challenging.

My older siblings migrated to urban areas in search of employment, generously contributing some of their earnings to support me through school and taking turns caring for me. Their collective efforts and encouragement built my confidence and soon my academic performance improved.

My family’s dedication and belief in my potential became a driving force in my academic journey, even when times got tougher.

I continued to grow in confidence during senior high school and realized that one of my greatest strengths was my ability to communicate effectively. I felt that if I could pursue higher education, I would be able to use this skill to make a better life for myself, my family and my community.

I approached my academic journey with a sense of responsibility, knowing that the fruits of my education would extend beyond my own achievements.

Approaching the end of senior high school was a daunting time. I knew my siblings would not be able to support me financially at university, but I remained determined. My only hope of getting into university was through a scholarship, for which you need good grades in all subjects. It was a blow to me when I graduated senior high school, passing all but one of my final exams.

I recognized that the road ahead would be tough, but I was ready to face the obstacles and seek out opportunities to make my dreams a reality.

After school graduation I moved to the Central Region of Ghana to be closer to my siblings and job opportunities — I needed to save up for university. It was here that I first heard about CAMFED through an education officer in a nearby district who helped me to prepare and rewrite my paper and also assisted me to apply to university through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at CAMFED Ghana. This gave me the highest motivation to rewrite and pass my exams and gain admission to the university.

With CAMFED’s belief in me, my hope was alive again. I could see a brighter future within my reach.

I retook and passed my final high school exam within a matter of weeks and then applied to study Political Science at the University of Education in Winneba. Soon after, I was ecstatic to learn I had been accepted!

I felt inspired from my very first orientation with CAMFED. Meeting members of the CAMFED Association — the network of young women leaders educated with CAMFED’s support — who were studying at the university was amazing. They shared stories of how they were using their skills to help society, which led me to wonder how I could make a positive impact on the world. I was so glad to meet a fellow CAMFED Association member named Ruth. She was in her final year when I joined university and soon became my mentor and friend.

With CAMFED’s support, I could do more than just survive. I could achieve good grades, open my mind, listen and observe what is going on around me, and build my capacity to support others.

Realizing my potential as a leader and game changer

During my time at university I achieved several leadership positions, including Organizer and President of the CAMFED Association on my campus, and later I became the Public Relations Officer on the National Scholars Council of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars at CAMFED Ghana.

With CAMFED’s support through the application process, I also secured a place on a two-year fellowship program that helps equip young educators for work in the development space. I learned so much, including how to raise funds locally and internationally through advocacy, communication and grant application. It also offered me the opportunity to learn more about storytelling, an essential component of communicating about the work we do at CAMFED. Out of the ten fellows on the program, five of us were CAMFED Association members!

In 2019, I was excited to travel outside of Ghana for the first time, joining the Canadian International Education Policy Working Group (CIEPWG) Youth Advisory Council. There I met politicians, shared ideas, and influenced spending on education.

Me (left) with my fellow CAMFED Association member Sandra at CIEPWG’s Youth Advisory Council workshop in Ottawa in 2019.

Through the CAMFED Association network, I’ve received a lot of opportunities as a young person to build my career and expand my capacity to support others.

My growing awareness of disability rights

With the peace of mind that CAMFED’s support provided, I was able to channel my energy outside of studying into community projects. In some of my university classes, I encountered students with visual impairments. One of them, a new friend who used braille, I started supporting by reading and recording his notes. Then I met another student with a visual impairment who showed me how he worked on a laptop to take notes instead. I was impressed with how fast and easy this method was compared to using braille and audio recordings, and this inspired me to do more to help students with disabilities access technology.

That same year I met Derick Omari, a young innovator with an interest in the same field. Derick offered me his guidance and mentorship, and after the summer break after my first year of university, I launched Beyond the Braille — an initiative to help students with visual impairments take advantage of technology, by providing them with one-on-one digital skills training. Equipping students with visual impairments with digital skills promotes independence in their academic journey as they don’t need a second person to help them take notes, and improves communication between braille and non-braille users. These skills also greatly improve their employment opportunities and chance of a better future in an increasingly digital world.

Now I better understand the barriers that students with disabilities face in education, I have become a passionate advocate for disability rights and inclusion. I plan lessons in computer and smartphone skills, organize and train volunteers to deliver the sessions, and I facilitate outreach programs.

To date, Beyond the Braille has supported around 40 university students who have visual impairments with digital skills training.

Two university students supported by Beyond the Braille were able to install an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) app on their smartphones that allows them to read study notes aloud and scan and turn any text to speech. Both students are now feeling more confident and ready to continue on their academic journey.

I’ve encountered several challenges while running this initiative, such as a lack of laptops, financial capital, regular volunteers, and space for training. I continue to work towards greater financial security by fundraising, exploring partnerships and seeking grants. CAMFED recently provided 10 Samsung tablets, which have helped expand our reach. Working in the realm of education access, I am constantly filled with joy when I realize that I am working in a field that I am passionate about.

Igniting the passion of giving back

Determined to create more opportunities for people with disabilities, I started my own NGO in 2019 called the Organization for Inclusion and Empowerment (OFIE). This exists as an umbrella organization under which I run Beyond the Braille, Lead the Way Mentorship, Disability Hopeline and our newly launched Tech for Life Project, which seeks to empower children with disabilities with robotics and software development skills that would enable them to create products or assistive devices.

One of the children we support through Disability Hopeline had only recently lost his sight. We helped him with a white cane, hand frame and stylus, a recorder, and some books his mother could read to him as he got ready to be enrolled in a school for the blind we recommended. We also support a boy who has cerebral palsy – a lifelong condition that affects movement and coordination to go for assessment at a special school, as well as to get a diagnosis at a hearing clinic. Our next goal is to help him get hearing aids and acceptance into the special school.

CAMFED has been a benchmark that I operate with as an individual interested in building an NGO — it has standards and concepts that I look up to.

I am very grateful for the contributions of our volunteers, and aim to foster a culture of appreciation by celebrating their commitment through certificates and self-development opportunities. My fellow CAMFED Association sisters make up one-third of those who volunteer their time to my initiatives. Their participation has been instrumental in expanding our reach and impact, as they bring a wealth of knowledge, skills, and passion to the projects.

Giving back comes naturally when you benefit from CAMFED. You understand that we all have a part to play in solving problems in society.

My continuing journey with CAMFED

During my undergraduate studies, I joined CAMFED as a Programs Intern during one of my school breaks to gain knowledge in the nonprofit sector and learn from leaders in the organization. In this role I helped ensure CAMFED supported students received their school supplies, fees, and other essentials in a timely manner. I continued to work with CAMFED in different capacities, especially in making use of my public speaking skills.

In 2023, I got an appointment with CAMFED as the CAMFED Association Talent and Engagement Officer. In this role, I work closely with Fiona Mavhinga, Executive Advisor to the CAMFED Association, to support young women to take part in events, advocacy and other opportunities on a national and global level. I also volunteer as a social media advocate, amplifying the voices of CAMFED Association members and sharing the works of CAMFED with the world through social media. It gives me immense joy to see CAMFED Association members thrive and, in turn, create positive change for others.

My sisters in the CAMFED Association strengthen my belief that through education, girls can achieve great things. Their stories are a constant reminder of the potential and resilience within each individual.

Joining a sisterhood with a common goal

Being a member of the CAMFED sisterhood means being part of a community that shares a common goal: to create a brighter and more equitable future. Together, we do charity work like repairing school uniforms, donating money to support vulnerable children through school, tree planting, and raising awareness of important issues. Being part of this sisterhood instills a sense of solidarity and support. We celebrate each other’s successes, offer guidance during challenges, and inspire one another to reach new heights.

I have gained so many sisters like Kate Wodenya Amenyikor, who I met through the CAMFED Media Advocates group, learning we had both been nominated for a Humanitarian Award. We rallied support for each other and she won the award. Although I did not win, we both celebrated her award together, acknowledging the impact we are making in the world – the start of a beautiful friendship. Our shared passion for self-development and philanthropy inspires us both to make a positive impact on the world.

The CAMFED sisterhood not only provides a platform for personal growth and development, it also serves as a catalyst for change on a larger scale.

Secondary image   Jennifer and Kate CAMA GH Humanitarian Awards

Me (left) celebrating Kate for winning the Humanitarian Award in 2020.

Venturing into business and agriculture

Nearing the end of my time at university, I wanted to establish a business to earn a steady income after graduation. I set up an agribusiness growing cassava — a staple food in Ghana. I’ve incorporated climate-smart techniques in my farming methods such as intercropping: growing multiple crops together in the same field to optimize land use and enhance biodiversity. I’m proud to run a sustainable business that helps me support myself and contributes to food security in my community. In addition to my agribusiness, I also sell books and African print fabrics to customers around Ghana.

Looking towards an inclusive future in education and beyond

I have big ambitions for the future of my NGO, which include continuing to develop our robotics training program to help more children with disabilities gain valuable IT skills and foster their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We are currently working with other youth-led organizations like TechDream and the IoT (Internet of Things) network to pilot the program in a school in Winneba.

At Beyond the Braille we are aiming to gather comprehensive data assessing the long-term impact of our program on the careers of participants. We are also planning to create a platform that connects the students we support with prospective employers and support their successful transition into the workforce.

In 10 years time, I see myself as an accomplished African and International Development expert, with a focus on education, youth engagement, and inclusion. I will continue to advocate for the rights of marginalized young people, especially persons with disabilities and girls, ensuring their voices are heard. I will continue to mentor and guide young people, to help them become leaders in their communities.

CAMFED has made me a light, and I ask myself what more can I do to shine?

In the CAMFED Association, we embody the spirit of being game changers, by seeking solutions to challenges and taking proactive steps to bring positive change! We game changers are innovative, resilient and determined to make a difference. We strive to uplift those around us and are dedicated to creating a more equitable, inclusive world. I am certain we have the power to create lasting change and shape a brighter future for generations to come.

 

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