Amazing determination of 12-year-old with disabilities who had never been to school

Children with disabilities

By Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu, one of A World at School’s Global Youth Ambassadors and founder of HOPE For Children Cameroon

According to the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, more than one billion people worldwide live with a disability – 80% of them in developing countries. They generally have poor health, limited educational opportunities and experience higher rates of poverty than those without disabilities.

Most children with disabilities will never to school. Bertila, a 12-year-old from Cameroon, was one of them. But now she has been given the cherished opportunity to go to school for the very first time.

Bertila was born with a disability and impaired vision. She lost both parents many years ago and her grandmother could not afford to care for her.

Every morning, as the head teacher of one of the schools we work with passed by their compound, she would start crying and plead with the head teacher to take her to school.

Bertila wanted to go to school just like her friends. She was tired of sitting in one place every day and watched her friends pass by their house to and from school. She had dreams just like you and me.

When she heard that HOPE for Children Cameroon was visiting this school on September 24, she saw this as the only opportunity she may ever have to go to school. It took her almost 40 minutes to walk from her home to the nearby school. When she came that morning, she sat at one corner of the school building and watched as her friends received school supplies and their tuition being paid.

She eventually started crying and one of our colleagues walked up to her and asked her what was wrong – but she said nothing. Then a woman walked up to one of our colleagues and told her Bertila had lost both parents.

She had never been in a classroom and she would cry every day to go to school. We later realised she had difficulties walking, as we saw her walking aid beside her.

I could never in my wildest dreams imagine someone at age 12 not to have seen the four walls of a classroom. Then it dawned on me that over 58 million children today are out of school and Bertilia is just one among them.

Imagine an orphan with a form of disability, in addition to the fact that she is a girl living in an environment where no one cares. Imagine the huge risks she faces each day, the mockery from people and the isolation and desolation. This is what Bertila went through each day. She could be sexually exploited or abused because no one really cared about her.

We immediately enrolled her into our scholarship programme into class 1. We asked the head teacher to make sure she comes to school each day and we promised we will be back in a few weeks with some school supplies for her, since we had none left on the day. The head teacher advised that, because of her age, it would be best for Bertila to be enrolled into class 2 since she looked very big in class 1, where the kids are four or five years old.

Last Friday, October 17, Bertila came to school very early in the morning waiting for the big surprise. Bertila, who hardly smiles, could be seen smiling. She felt a new beginning in her journey to success. She got a new uniform, shoes, a school bag and writing materials – and could be seen trying to walk around campus. The other kids had all their eyes on her. They had found a new friend, a new playmate. She could not speak English but, with a smile on her face, she said: “Thank You, Thank You.”

We hope Bertila will stay strong and be the best she can be by believing in herself. We promise to support her in this journey which she so cherished – the path of education. As I looked at these pictures, all I could do was to shed tears of joy knowing that Bertila is happy.

As we try to get Bertila a walking aid, I am reminded how much a smile can mean to someone. As Mother Theresa said: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

You can read more about the work of HOPE for Children Cameroon in this blog by Joannes.

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