Voices of Courage Honoree Atim Caroline Ogwang: Acceptance Speech

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Caroline's Acceptance Speech:

 

Thank you Charlotte for your gracious introduction. It is an honor to be introduced by a leader who fights for the inclusion of women with disabilities around the world.

I was born in Sudan. But I spent my childhood in a refugee camp in Uganda. Both of my parents were killed in the war before my 7th birthday. My seven teenage sisters and brothers cared for me. We were all trying to survive in a very harsh environment.

My childhood was “normal.” Abductions in the refugee camp were normal. Losing family members was normal. Waking up hungry and seeing if your neighbors could give you something to eat was normal.

I became deaf when I was five years old because I was hungry. I wanted to eat a mango. When I got to the mango tree, some ammunition exploded. After that, I could not speak or hear. I was in pain and bleeding in my ears. But there was no medication to save my hearing.

Becoming deaf stopped my education for two years. Everyone thought educating the deaf was a waste of time.

It is difficult being young deaf woman. It is especially difficult to be a deaf refugee girl. There is a no information. There are no sign language interpretation services. In many cases, there is parental neglect. Many girls with disabilities are abused. A lot of them get pregnant outside of marriage. Most deaf girls and women do not complete high school. The only jobs we can get are cleaning offices and doing domestic work.

But I was fortunate. After two years, I started school again. When I was 16 years old, I founded the Southern Sudan Deaf Development Concern with a group of deaf friends. We provide services for the deaf community. We advocate for deaf rights.

We lobbied Parliament until they finally agreed to put civil rights for people with disabilities in the Constitution. I also represent the women of South Sudan for Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Inclusion is a very important right for women and girls like me. People forget the needs of women with disabilities. The poorest are women with disabilities. The least educated are women with disabilities. These are the things that need correction.

Now that my country, South Sudan, is independent, we are free at last. What is missing is the belief in the abilities of persons with disabilities. We must stand up for our rights. The next generation of women and girls needs to be seen first as people and second as persons with disabilities.

In the future, my goal is to become a lawyer. I will use my education to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities across all of Africa. I want show others that having a disability does not end your life.

I want to thank the Women’s Refugee Commission for this distinguished award. The work that they do to help refugees with disabilities fight for their rights and use their voices to stand up for inclusion is critical to the future of women everywhere, like me.

I dedicate this award to the women and girls with disabilities in South Sudan, who have the capacity to influence the development of our new country. My dream is to become the first female Member of Parliament in Africa who is deaf.

May God bless us all as He shows us the way. We will never give up. Thank you.

Now I will read you my poem.

Poem:

If you see women and girls with disabilities

Around the world

What can they do to help women with disabilities around the world?

Because the women and girls with disabilities living in refugee camps are suffering and where is the support and education for women and girls with disabilities?