2019 Mandela Washingon Fellow Adesola Adedokun Ajayi, from Nigeria, has taken what some would consider an obstacle in his life and turned it into an opportunity to better himself and help his community.
Adesola went blind when he was 10 years old. Before going blind, he was illiterate and struggled in school. After, he was sent to a school for the blind, where he learned to read Braille.
Adesola has not let being blind stop him from achieving his goals. He has used it as an inspiration to help those in his community.
He is now a lawyer who has done a tremendous amount of work to help blind children in his community.
“What I do outside the practice of law is to give back to my society what my society has invested in me,” he says.
Adesola started a rehabilitation center for the visually impaired called Rose and Thorns in the state of Ogun. The center helps to advance their lives by teaching them how to read Braille and work with computers. Adesola then works to place participants in programs and help them find jobs.
In the future, he plans to continue improving his rehabilitation center so he can make it more accessible and reach more people in his community. He also wants to open a primary school for blind children.
Adesola wants to see young African leaders use their skills to help people in their communities.
“Just look at the present and look at what you can do to help your immediate community. If each one could touch one and each one could reach one, it is clear that the world would be a better place,” he says.
Learn more about Adesola’s journey to give others like him a shot at a better life by listening to this YALI Voices podcast or reading the transcript below.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: ADESOLA ADEDOKUN AJAYI
ADESOLA ADEDOKUN AJAYI: My blindness does not hold me back at all because it’s all about my self-esteem. As I said earlier on, I do not see myself as a blind person. Maybe see a problem, I don’t know. But I do not see myself as a blind person at all. I believe I can do what the so-called able-bodied can do.
My name is Ajayi Adesola Adedokun. I am from Nigeria.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
VOICE-OVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com to stay up to date on all things YALI.
In today’s edition of the YALI Voices podcast, we’re honored to be speaking with Adesola Ajayi, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, lawyer and advocate for the blind in Nigeria. A graduate of the University of Lagos, he successfully completed the Nigerian Bar Association examination in 2017.
Talking with Adesola, it was clear that being blind was in no way holding him back from achieving in life. And he wants to make sure that others in Nigeria are not made to suffer due to a visual impairment either. He has nine years of experience in education, rehabilitation and capacity building among disabled communities.
Adesola was not born blind and he shares how he overcame the limited resources available to children who are visually impaired. Later, he talks about why becoming a lawyer was so important to him.
ADESOLA: I grew up in Lagos, and after six years, I was taken to Ogun State, another state in Nigeria, to assist my paternal grandmother. And she needed the assistance, and I was a toddler, so I was helping her to go to different places. And after four or five years, when I was 10, I became blind, and I couldn’t run errand[s] for her again, and I was taken back to Lagos State.
But when I could see, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t have any intelligence at all. I couldn’t read or write. That’s what they found out when I was in school. They taught me different things, but I could not just understand. But when I came back to Lagos and I was taken to a special school, my story changed. God gave me another different life, a life of purpose, and it gave me intellectual deposits. And now, I’m a lawyer by profession.
I was taken to a special school, Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos. When I started the school, it was so difficult because they taught me Braille literacy, the foundation aspect of Braille, which is the dots. But I could not just understand it. I was tutored. I was beaten. But something happened one day. I was just on my own, and God just did this miracle. He opened my understanding, and I could recite dots without being taught. So, I was just on my own when the understanding came. And since that day, my life changed.
The school even called my father before that time to come and take me away because they said this one cannot cope academically. Take him to vocational school so that he can be equipped with one or two skills and can better his life. But my father told them: Exercise patience, just give him one or two months. Maybe something positive will happen to him. And something positive happened, God gave me a divine understanding, and I got rated from that school as the best student. And I was even given a scholarship at the school to continue my secondary school education.
ADESOLA: I wanted to be a lawyer right from time because my mother told me when she was pregnant with me, she saw a lawyer on radio, on TV speaking, as she prophesized that this child that I’m carrying must be a lawyer, so she gave me that understanding and that urge, although she’s not literate. My dad is not literate. And out of 13 children, I’m the only literate one. I’m the only one that attended university. But, you know, maybe our prophecy came to pass, and I also nourished that and nurtured that in my mind. I said I must be a lawyer.
So, when I was about writing my O Level, I did subjects that related to the profession I wanted to be in then.
I attended the law school in University of Lagos, and it was great. It was great. It was something impactful. It was just like an ordinary class. I was just in class, and I listened to the lecturer closely, but what I did basically was to record all my lectures, so I can always go in my closet to listen to everything, and it’s been great, this. And I used the opportunity to also teach my colleagues, because we cannot write everything the lecturer says, but you can record all the lecturer says.
ADESOLA: I’ve changed so many people. I’ve been an inspiration to most of my colleagues. Even here, in my institution, most of my mates never met a literate blind person before, so when we came into the program, I have an issue. It was like, are they going to cope? But when we started, they forgot about the fact that I’m blind because I don’t even remember that I’m blind. That’s just a problem I have. I don’t remember. I’m only being remembered circumstantially. Maybe when I, maybe a situation, some situation where I want to go somewhere and there’s nobody, or something like that. But normally I don’t remember.
To me, my blindness is a blessing in disguise because when I could see, I could not understand anything. But when I became blind, life changed for me positively, so to me, it’s a blessing in disguise. And all my siblings that can see are not literate. So, I’m the only one that is totally blind, and I’m literate.
Basically, what the law I practice is, I say, I’m a young member of the bar, two years with the bar. Now we do not have a real specialization for now as a young lawyer. So, what comes your way, you practice. But maybe when I want to do my master’s, I will have a real specialization. But what I do, I do criminal litigation, corporate and property, you know.
People do not doubt my ability because of my blindness, because it’s all about my charisma. It’s all about the way I position myself. I also present myself to my friends and to my clients. So, when I’m in court, I’m a different person in court, and judges really want to slow me down because, you know, judges write everything I say, and I will also try as much as possible to equip myself with lots and lots of legal maxims and real concepts or interpretation of words.
VOICE-OVER: Adesola is committed to developing ways for the blind to be integrated in society throughout Nigeria. He talks about two of the projects he’s working on and how his work is being embraced by his community.
ADESOLA: What I do outside the practice of law is to give back to my society what my society has invested in me. As I’ve already said, I’m a product of the benevolent nature of Nigerian society. And to whom much is given, much is expected. What I do, basically, is to gather children who are totally blind, give them Braille literacy, and computer literacy with the aid of JAWS. JAWS is a talking software, Job Access with Speech, that enables the blind to have an independent interaction with the computer.
So I give them accessible education, fix them into proper schools. I have a rehabilitation center that is called Rose and Thorns. We named it Rose and Thorns because life is all about pain and pleasure, so, while we pray that the pleasure should be more than the pain. So, just to capture the concept of a person living with disability, Rose and Thorns. That is what we do basically, and that’s what brings me satisfaction and joy actually, giving back to my society what my society has invested in me.
I put the establishment together by the aid of one or two benefactors in Nigeria, and I looked for a state that has the highest number of blind persons in Nigeria. We talked about the southwestern part of Nigeria, Ogun State. And Ogun State does not have any rehabilitation center for the blind that belongs to the private sector, because the government sector is underfunded and is underequipped. So I decided to look at where the needs, where the provision, and where the service is needed. And we started. It’s not a big place. It’s just two rooms we use for now.
We’ve achieved a lot. By grace of God, I was able to support a lady, and we trained her. And we took her to polytechnic, and she’s studying now in the polytechnic, which is a tertiary institution in Nigeria. I was able to support Brian. Brian is 21 years. Brian got blind when he was 18. He was just in the house without any ambition. But we met him, we interacted with him, we communicated and we inspired him. Brian is preparing to write his O Level exams and also focused on his ambition to become a math communicator.
My community actually recognized what I do. The reason is this: They try as much as possible to look for blind people themselves and bring them to me. I cannot see. I cannot look and see them, but sometimes on the streets, they introduce people to me. There’s a blind person in your neighborhood here. The person has been blind, and she’s been sitting at home. What are you going to do about him? What are you going to do about her? To me, it’s a sign of recognition that I’m actually creating a value in my immediate community.
Well, for Rose and Thorns, the challenge I have with the rehabilitation center, I do not have good accommodation for now. And blind people going and coming on a daily basis is horrific because of traffic and the nature of Nigerian roads. They’re not that accessible. They’re not as safe for blind persons. My hope is to establish a rehabilitation center, a very good rehabilitation center with good accommodation system so that we can accommodate students and also give them the proper training without them going through daily stress.
And going further, my ambition is to have a complete, comprehensive, well-equipped and facilitated primary school for the blind only, where children can come and obtain their primary education, accessible primary education, as a foundation to their success in life.
When I was in University of Lagos, I headed a group. I was head of the special students. So, we did an advocacy on University of Lagos having a department of the library for the blind, a department of the library for the blind, that the library should give the blind people a section just for them to be able to read and also access materials. And at the advocacy, the first challenge we had was money was approved without money being released. There was approval. There was no release of the money.
So, after I went into advocacy again, the money was actually released, and as I’m talking to you now, the University of Lagos library can boast of a section of the library being dedicated to blind persons and well-equipped and also facilitated too.
VOICE-OVER: And finally, Adesola has a few words of inspiration for YALI Network members.
ADESOLA: What YALI Network can do in their immediate communities is that they don’t need to look at the big future for now. Just look at the present and look at what you can do to help your immediate community. If each one could touch one and each one could reach one, it is clear that the world would be a better place. Inasmuch as life is all about pain and pleasure, rose and thorns, it should not be a bed of thorns, but should be a bed of roses.
And I, as a person, I believe that YALI Network have been equipped with good qualities to better their environment, their community, so they can do like what I’m doing and also collaborate with one another to make the world a better place.
VOICE-OVER: Thank you, Adesola, for making such a positive contribution to your community and the world.
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