SUCCESS STORY FROM KENYA: Elizabeth Mang’eni, a passionate advocate for persons with disabilities and a leader with a powerful mental attitude
Elizabeth Mang’eni is a Trade Development Officer with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives in Kenya under the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit where she promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in domestic, regional and international markets. She is the Co-founder of You4She Initiative where she sensitizes girls on menstrual hygiene education, her home community on the rights of persons with disabilities in order to reduce discrimination and she also empowers persons with disabilities especially women on entrepreneurial skills so that they can be more independent.
From her own life’s experience as a young amputee woman since the age of 3 years, Elizabeth decided to engage in the advocacy for persons with disabilities, especially women and girls because they face double discrimination which is based on their disability and gender status. In addition, she is also passionate about Entrepreneurship because it gives her the risk to push herself beyond her capabilities to see the development and change she seeks to have in her society.
Elizabeth did her first degree in Business Management and specialized in Finance and Banking mainly because she wanted to work in a Bank; behind the counters where people would only get to see her face and won’t get to judge her or stare at her prosthesis limb. Her first interview was at Barclays bank but unfortunately she never got the job. This really disappointed her but later realized it was God opening a better door for her. That same year after the rejection, she was able to secure a scholarship by African Union to pursue her Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship.
“That was my turning point. I fell in love with Entrepreneurship in my first semester. Entrepreneurship made me learn a lot, challenge the status quo and see things from a different angle.” Elizabeth said.
“When you get to listen to what entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Richard Bradson and Tony Elumelu went through before becoming successful you’ll be challenged. These successful entrepreneurs actually create jobs for so many young people out there and the impact they have to the economy and someone’s life is impressive. That’s what motivates me every day. I want to create jobs especially for persons with disabilities and provide a working environment that’s inclusive for all. I also want to use entrepreneurship as a tool to empower persons with disabilities especially women in my society. From entrepreneurship we can create more jobs for the unemployed youths out there, reduce the rate of poverty especially the begging habit that’s associated with persons with disabilities. Now that’s the development we want to see in Africa”.
When it comes to talk about challenges, Elizabeth uses a speaking style which is unique for a young queen of Africa who is struggling against discriminations from her home community day by day.
“Challenges are there. Some make me tear up and get emotional but hey at the end of the day I get to pick myself up. Funding is the biggest challenge. If I had enough funding I would very much help many people with disabilities who lack assistive devices move easily, help some undergo corrective surgeries and therapy or even funding to help some start their own businesses. Aside funding, I at times face rejection by some community members as first of all I'm a lady and at the same time disabled therefore most people never want to be involved with my project .When I also try to implement or propose something new to a community that is against certain practices this is itself a challenge. Most people in our African communities are driven by culture and religion which makes them believe persons with disabilities are cursed or their disabilities are as a result of witch craft. Fortunately I believe that none of these challenges will stop me from accomplishing my goals since I have networked with amazing people who’ve made me grow emotionally, mentally and physically”.
Martin Luther dreamed of an America of human rights and public freedoms. Barack Obama dreamed to bring change in America and developed a powerful communication concept around YES WE CAN. As those global leaders, Elizabeth cherishes also a dream full of love and humanism. Her dream is a dream of hope and brotherhood of people from across the globe. It is a dream of hope because it aims to understand that notwithstanding ones physical or social status, every person is entitled to be loved and to share love. Based on this belief, there should never be a place for bigotry when people with disabilities want to marry.
“Five years from now I see myself being in love with an incredible person who sweeps me off my feet and loves me for who I am or better yet becoming a great motivational speaker touring the world and changing peoples’ lives without expecting anything in return but only love and tight hugs. I also see myself in an environment where despite my gender and disability, I am given an opportunity to lead my dreams due to my abilities and not my status. This is not just for me but for everyone out there”.
Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme has done incredible things in Elizabeth’s life. She was able to meet new friends from different parts of the world who taught her how to love, take life as it comes, inspire and challenge myself. The Program also gave her an opportunity to have her first TV interview and had her story published in newspapers which got to inspire so many people out there.
“The best part is that the programme also enabled me come out of these one hard shell that prevented me from speaking about disability. My disability story was a “no topic of discussion” before but after the program I got to realize it was actually easier to speak about my disability without any shame so that people would understand me better. I encourage more youths to apply for the program not just because you get to go to the U.S but because it’s a program that opens up your mind to a lot of things.”
Elizabeth Mang’eni is then an outstanding ambassador and a coach not only for persons with disabilities, but for everyone facing the darkest side of life. From her own experience, she is using social media and ITC to provide people with the relief they need to deal with trauma and life’s misfortune. As a young humanist and a change-maker with a proven leadership record in public service and community development, Elizabeth spends a part of her time on Facebook to generate outstanding leadership lessons for life that universities and colleges will never teach people.
“One main thing that people are usually unprepared for after an accident is the reality of the recovery and healing time. I remember after the accident, when I woke up after days in a coma, I noticed that my leg was gone. I only wanted to sleep again and persuaded myself that everything would be fine and I was only dreaming. I convinced myself that I would fall asleep, wake up and everything would be as it was before – Alas! It was just a wish. Though I got around to the fact that I was lucky to be just alive.
All I wanted was to be healed and begin walking like yesterday. Unfortunately, amputation is an irrevocable physical change. Even the most sophisticated technology is not able to fully replace this loss with prosthesis. After being discharged, I did everything to blend in society despite the double discrimination experienced and would convince myself that my leg would grow back because I was still growing (Well, It never did).I was afraid to be different. I never accepted my new self image immediately.
I had to relearn how to walk again which meant multiple physical therapy appointments per month, tears, falling, crutches, parallel bars, prosthetics appointments and adjustments (This is just the physical side).Performing the simplest of tasks which used to be some piece of black forest cake for me before like climbing stairs, or bathing without a prosthesis leg or just dressing took centuries. The road to recovery was long and not easy at all but it certainly was not impossible. Believe in yourself when faced with challenges, surround yourself with supportive people and be confident in yourself. Confidence throws away all worries and doubts. Well it is great reading inspiring stories about amazing people but what is important is to realize it is ok to be YOU.
They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade and add ice cubes to make the drink refreshing. But when life gives you an amputation at a young age or any form of disability, what do you do?”
Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why was Elizabeth Mang’eni so successful?
Some key characteristics come to mind:
Notwithstanding the amputation of her leg in a car accident when she was only 3 years old, Elizabeth Mang’eni used the POWER OF THE MENTAL ATTITUDE to overcome every single challenge, including but not limited to discrimination from her home community. Thank to a right mental attitude, she was able to focus on her success and she decided to foster her academic record, until she earned a scholarship to pursue her Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and secured an employment with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives in Kenya as a Trade Development Officer.
Elizabeth Mang’eni believes that disability like amputation is not a fatality. Everyone may face it in the course of the life. Therefore, discriminations and bigotry based on social and physical status of people shall be addressed emergently by Governments around the globe to give disable persons hope and joy to be accepted everywhere as genuine human beings.
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