Lois Auta is a woman with 99 abilities and only one disability, which was polio, that affected me at age two, but I have never allowed it to stop me from achieving my dreams. I was disabled by polio and enabled by positivity. Some see their disabilities as a curse, but I see mine as a blessing, some see theirs as a problem, but I see mine as a solution to change the world. Some see their disabilities as a disadvantage but I see mine as an advantage.
Growing up I found myself different from other kids because I was affected by polio at age two, inferiority complex set in, and I stopped mingling with children in my compound, school and Church. I was always indoors until my mom taught me to believe in myself. She told me to be proud of myself and accept the way God had created me and that was how I conquered my low spirit and welcomed my high spirit of confidence as a global leader.
Do you think using a wheelchair has restricted you in any way?
No and Yes. No, because it has not stopped me from being strong willed, brave, determined, hardworking and resilient but it has restricted me from living a comfortable life in this country due to societal barriers that disable me instead of enabling me by giving me facilities to live an independent life.
What are some common misconceptions about people with disability?
Some people believe that people with disabilities are witches or wizards; some people think it is the sins of the disabled’s parent, some people think is a punishment. Not all these mentioned are true. It is caused by sickness, disease or nature. God allowed it to happen to me so that people will glorify His name in my life.
Have you been able to defy some of the odds about people with disability?
Yes. I changed the perception of the public towards persons with disabilities because they have seen many abilities in me through the brilliant impact I am making in my community, my successes and achievements. Some parents wish I were their daughter, lol. The rejected cornerstone has become the chief cornerstone. God has changed my story from being a liability to an independent woman, from a beggar to a breadwinner, from an ordinary person to an extraordinary person because He is a God that fetches water with a basket to disgrace the bucket.
In 2013, I drove from Abuja to Kano State in Nigeria (about 7 hours) to discuss with the late Galadiman of Kano in search of ways to educate persons with disabilities in Northern Nigeria. I am a fearless disabled woman; through my advocacy work, I can face any policy or decision maker and tell them to do the right thing for disabled people. In that light, people have listened to me, and I have made a huge impact which has been felt in the Nigerian disability community.
I have also met global leaders and gotten handshakes from influential people like Former President Obama, and his wife Michelle Obama, Former President Obasanjo, and Former Vice President Atiku. I was on the list of 100 most outstanding youths during Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s reign, I met with President Buhari in 2015 and 2016, Vice President Osinbajo, Mark Zuckerberg, Professor Schwab and other great people.
Are people in Africa empathetic to people with disability?
Not really or not the way I am expecting it to be. For now, I will say 30 percent. Persons with disabilities are treated as second-class citizens and are seen as people who need help. Facilities are not provided for us, and our rights are not given to us. There is no inclusive education, no inclusive employment, no inclusive healthcare, no inclusive transportation, no inclusive ICT, no inclusive infrastructure and no inclusive policies and programs. We suffer daily from discrimination, exclusion, gender-based violence against women with disabilities, bad attitudes, stigmatization and so on.
Do you think there has been a change on how people with disability are treated now in Africa than they were treated many years ago?
Yes, we are making a gradual progress in Nigeria and Africa. Ten years ago, we didn’t know the meaning of disability but today some of us are aware of what it means and who we are. We have about 7 clusters of disabled people; the blind, the deaf, the people affected by spinal cord injuries, the people affected by Hansen diseases, physically challenged, the albinos and mentally affected people. In Nigeria today, we have over 27 million persons with disabilities and 8 states have disability commissions that run the affairs of persons with disabilities. In the next 10 years, I foresee many great changes in the Nigerian disability community.
Why did you start Cedar Seed Foundation?
I started CSF with the intention to include our issues in government policies by promoting disability rights. CSF was set up with the vision to create a world where disabled people will actively participate fully in the society and enjoy equal human rights. The mission is to create an enabling environment and provide services that support disabled people in Nigeria.
Has the Nigerian government supported the work you do in any way?
Yes, in so many positive ways, they have supported our advocacy work from good governance, ICT training, scholarship awards, workshops, loan facility and many projects and programs.
Public and private institutions have also supported us, like Sahara Foundation, NNPC, UNDP, US Government, World Economic Forum, Young Global Leaders, IGPES Group, Microsoft, IREX, USAID, OSIWA, CDD, Federal Government of Nigeria, etc.
Have you succeeded in making a policy change that is favorable to people with disability in Nigeria?
We have succeeded in training some disabled people who now have businesses and organizations; we have supported some students with disabilities by giving them scholarship awards, and loan facility for entrepreneurs with disabilities.
The Nigeria Disability Bill has been our priority for the past ten years. I was part of the team that edited the bill in 2016 that is currently with the Eighth National Assembly Members of the Nigeria Parliament. My team and I convened an event with the US Embassy in December 2015 in commemoration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities and discussed our issues with some of the members of the Parliament. They made a commitment to pass the bill in the House of Senate and House of Representatives. They fulfilled their promises on July 13, 2016 by passing the bill in the House of Senate. The bill is presently in the House of Representatives for final harmonization before it will be sent to the President for assent.
Have you received any assistance at home and/or abroad?
Yes, I was selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow by the US Embassy in 2014 among 500 youths in Sub-Saharan Africa to receive professional leadership training in one of the best universities in the US. I was placed in Arizona State University where I studied Civic Leadership and I received an award after the training. I have also received support from local and international development partners.
What are your long-term goals for Cedar Seed Foundation?
My long-term goal is to set up an African Disability Centre for skilled and un-skilled people with disabilities to be empowered and to ensure that the disability bill is achieved in Nigeria and other African countries.
What are some of the accolades or recognition you have received?
Listed among 2017 Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum on March 15, 2017. The only YGL selected from Nigeria in 2017 and the first in the African Disability Community.
Mentioned by the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, mentioned in his opening remarks
Listed among the most outstanding 100 people in Northern Nigeria in 2016 on January 07, 2017
Second runner up of the Best e-Governance Start-up in the NITDA –Nihilent recognition of nation builders program on November 23, 2016
House of David, Utako, Abuja, Nigeria, June 2012 – The Most Courageous Member
National Wheelchair Tennis Federation, Abuja, Nigeria May 2013 – Best Female Player/Winner
I was among 100 Outstanding Youths selected and celebrated on International Youth Day with President Goodluck at Aso Rock Presidential Villa in 2014
Linking Sports and Communities, Arizona, USA, July 2014 – (MVP) Most Valuable Player for promoting disabled sports globally.
Mandela Washington Fellow, Washington DC, August 2014
Award of recognition from Southern Kaduna Peoples Union – January 17, 2015
Award of Excellence from Great Alumni Initiative, University of Abuja as the most gritty, strong-willed and tenacious graduate of the Public Administration Department in December 05, 2015
Award of Excellence from Tribes Magazine Southern Kaduna as Disabled Amazon in December 19, 2015
Ashoka Changemaker Scholar, July 2016
Finalist in Aso Villa Demo Day, September 02, 2016
Nigeria Rebirth Project – Nigerian Dream Personality Honours by the Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi (Ojaja II), September 20th, 2016.
Most Active Member of the online global fireside chat community facilitated by Alysia Selberg for global entrepreneurs, September 28, 2016
Profiled on Wikipedia on September 29, 2016
Who is your greatest inspiration?
God is my greatest inspiration. I had an encounter with Him before Cedar Seed Foundation was established. He is my mentor, my partner, and my investor. He gives me ideas to execute. He created me this way to show how mighty He is. My mother is my second inspiration because she trained to be the woman I am today. God used my mom to give me first hand training on what I do today. I am very grateful to God and my family.
What do you want the world to know, especially Africans, about people with disability?
They are humans, they are people, they are your sisters, brothers, students, engineers, journalists, doctors, entrepreneurs, farmers, technologists, inventors, programmers, administrators, politicians, captains of industries, world changers, agents of change, great mothers, loving fathers, responsible children, intelligent, the most brilliant people in the world and very very important people (VVIP) on earth. They have the potential, gifts, talents and abilities. All they need is support and opportunities and they will do exceedingly well.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be remembered as contributing to create an inclusive society where people with disabilities enjoy life to the fullest. A country or continent where people with disabilities are treated as priorities and our rights are provided to us.
How can people support the work you do?
By empowering, employing, equipping, educating and enabling persons with disabilities wherever they are. By volunteering and donating to the work of Cedar Seed Foundation, http://cedarseedfoundation.org/ and other disabled people organizations.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my story, I believe someone will be inspired, get to work and also include the issues of disabled people in their agenda. May God increase you and yours.
CREDIT : www.bravoafricans.com