At the age of 10 years old, following an accident, I was left unable to see.
My name is Masho Kidanemariam. I want to tell you my story and about the lives of blind children in Ethiopia.
Thankfully, unlike so many blind children in Ethiopia, my story has a happy ending. Today I am Executive Director of Special Educational Needs Ethiopia (SENEthiopia). It wasn’t an easy journey but it made me passionate about helping others who have been less fortunate.
Following my diagnosis, I faced an uncertain future. Unless I could get a place at one of the only ‘blind schools’ in the country, it was likely that I would end up begging to survive. Thankfully after a year of waiting, I was finally offered a residential place at the Mekele Blind School.
When I joined the school I lived with other blind children who came from different parts of the region. I felt so lucky. I loved learning and I’d been given another chance.
Sadly, very few children in Ethiopia who have special educational needs are able to access appropriate learning. Just 1% of these children are able to attend a specialist school as I did. The rest are often abandoned by their families and communities. Left to fend for themselves.
With the support of my new friends, I was able to adapt to the unfamiliar school environment. So many of my peers were a long way from home. The little ones, some as young as five years old, found it particularly hard.
Our school only had enough beds in its cramped leaky dormitories for students up to grade 8. Aged just 14 years old I had to leave the safety of the school and move to a single rented room in the town. It was hard.
I had to learn to cook, clean and find my way around. I lived with a few of my friends and received a small monthly allowance but it was only enough to cover rent and one meal a day.
Despite this, I was still top of my class and was awarded a grant to study law at Mekele University in 2009. I completed law school with distinction and was a medalist during the graduation.
After some years practicing law, I decided it was time to return to my first passion. I want to change how people think and advocate for those who have little or no voice of their own. Without support, blind children in Ethiopia have little chance to show their ability. I believe that every child deserves an education.
Since working for SENEthiopia I have been able to introduce many changes to my old school, doing my best to introduce modern governance, equip the children with adaptive materials and skills, increase their care and support, fix holes in roofs and increase the monthly allowance for the children who, aged just 14, are expected to live and manage on their own.
And more widely we have been able to provide Talking Textbooks across the Tigray region to help blind children in mainstream schools.
The school desperately needs additional accommodation so that it can admit more students. So many are losing out on even a basic education. For the children already here, we need more specialised learning resources, better quality food and improved safety.
With the help of Ethiopiaid supporters, I hope to make the school a better place for the blind children who have nowhere else to turn and pave the way for their future.
Executive Director, SENEthiopia