Disability in Africa – an interview with humanitarian Toti Jean Marc Yale

Africa is a continent made up of splendid scenery and colourful culture and tradition. Not only does the sun seem to shine all day, but the African diaspora is overflowing with humility and kindness, something that can only be attributed to its people.

This is the energy perceived by Toti Jean Marc Yale, owner and founder of EEFY (Education and English For You), a charity providing English lessons in schools and after school clubs in the Ivory Coast. His charity promotes gender equality in education and organises environmental projects. Yale doesn’t stop his humanitarian work here, he is also an advocate for disabled people in the Ivory Coast.

Disability is ruled by stigmas in Africa; in fact, according to the World Health Organisation, there are 300 million disabled people on the continent. This consequently means that 10 to 15 per cent of the world’s population are disregarded because of their disabilities.

Yale explains that "it really depends on individual views on the matter, but people who have disabilities and most certainly those who did not have the chance to go to school, are being judged because they make a living by begging and staying on side roads. They are seen as not trying to be reintegrated into society. People don't have any respect for them."

Toti Jean Marc Yale during an English lesson
Toti Jean Marc Yale during an English lesson

Indeed, in Africa, people with disabilities are usually marginalised and in some cases seen as being cursed. This leads to many disabled people being rejected by family or bullied at school, resulting in them failing to receive an education, which prevents them from building their future.

Yale, who has a disability himself, muscle atrophy in his legs caused by the Poliovirus, works with a variety of organisations to re-establish dignity and respect for people with disability in the Ivory Coast. He uses himself as an example of success in gaining that respect. “With the social initiatives I have advocated for, people have now a different perspective on disability. As I became more confident, I gained more respect, so they now also respect other disabled people. It is all a matter of character, respect and dignity,” he says.

Disability in children is also one of the main concerns in Africa. Children are being abandoned by their parents because disabilities are caused by witchcraft and curses as the article Traditional beliefs inform attitudes to disability in Africa: Why it matters? explained.

“Disabled people all over the world are confronted with a range of explanations for disability,” says Yale. “These can have impact on many aspects of their lives. In many African countries, a range of beliefs and attitudes underpin these alternative explanations. They include assumptions, misconceptions, traditional or religious beliefs and beliefs about the natural and supernatural worlds.”

Yale’s childhood was not an easy one. He recalls the difficulties he had with people’s views on his disability. “I remember a high school friend told me ‘this is why God made you this way’ when talking about me being elected as a class rep due to people ‘feeling bad for me’ because of my disability. So some were victimising me while others were edifying and encouraging me.”

He mentions the importance of educating the mass and destigmatising disability with the work of other charities such as GIEHPCI, which supports students and pupils through their curriculums at school and universities. The government provides bursaries for students with disabilities and have given funding to make universities and school spaces more accessible to wheelchair users.

Yale notes that as a big improvement, and he is already thinking forward in terms of increasing the standard of life for the disabled, such as “more accessibility in buses and transportation, more inclusive spaces. Also finding a way to reintegrate disabled people who are begging on side roads. Finding ways to give them a new chance in life.”

There is always an opportunity for change for the most marginalised of our society. In Africa, there is a need for educating the mass to change belief systems and a need for more inclusive societies. Charities and non-profit organisations such as Yale’s are doing their best to make this change happen.

If you would like to support this charity, follow this link or leave a comment below with information on funding or potential contributions.