Unfortunately, children with disabilities often do not have the same opportunities as other children for social interaction and self-discovery in school. Less than 50% of children with disabilities complete their primary education, preventing them from ever reaching their full potential or becoming independent members of their communities.
Access to early childhood development programs and inclusive enrichment opportunities can dramatically improve the life of a child with a disability. There, they can build self-confidence, make new friends and discover hidden talents.
2013 Youth Honoree Chaeli Mycroft of The Chaeli Campaign has provided educational opportunities and more for 10,000 children with disabilities in South Africa.
One of those children is Boeta, a young boy with Spina Bifida who was abandoned as a baby. Today, he is enrolled in The Chaeli Campaign’s Enrichment Centre where he is not only getting an education, but also learning to explore new passions and become independent.
Boeta was only two years old when he was found in a storm pipe in South Africa with his sister. Both had been abandoned.
Fortunately, a woman named Dinah, who worked in child welfare, found them and enrolled them in foster care. She decided to become Boeta’s foster parent, knowing that a child with a disability has a significantly lower chance of being taken in by a foster family.
But finding a stable family was not the only obstacle facing Boeta. Like so many other children with disabilities, Boeta was not given the chance to go to school. Too often, children like Boeta miss out on getting a quality education because schools are not designed to accommodate them and families do not consider the education of a disabled child to be important.
That’s where Chaeli Mycroft comes in. Born with cerebral palsy, Chaeli speaks around the world as an “ability activist” to create a global community that accepts and embraces disability. Her nonprofit, The Chaeli Campaign, runs an inclusive Early Childhood Enrichment Center where able-bodied and differently-abled children can learn in an environment where difference is a good thing.
“I think the biggest challenge for children with disabilities is the attitudes of the people around them,” Chaeli said. “This attitude is not always positive and is often one of limitation where there is minimal expected of these children and their lives. Their potential is not reached and is wasted and not shared with the world.”
Boeta enrolled in The Chaeli Campaign’s program when he turned 9. He began different therapies that were specific to his needs, received a custom-made wheelchair, and attended The Chaeli Campaign’s enrichment center.
Since then, Boeta’s life has been completely transformed. When he enrolled, Boeta was shy and quiet. Now, he is becoming fluent in English and developing his communications skills. He dances on stage in his wheelchair and rides with his bike partner, Tina, in professional cycling races. In February 2015, Tina will swim the Midmar Mile with Boeta riding in a kayak behind her.
Now, in place of road blocks, Boeta sees opportunity. An opportunity to learn, grow and defy expectations.
“We believe that children with disabilities are catalysts for change in their families and communities,” Chaeli said, “and we need to advocate for a more inclusive society for the benefit of all.”