An article written by a University of Nottingham graduate about the struggles of young disabled people in Sierra Leone and Leonard Cheshire Disability’s Young Voices project won the amateur journalist category in this year’s Guardian International Development Journalism Competition.
Libby Powell’s heartfelt article, “Beyond beliefs” was commended by judges for “giving a voice to the voiceless.” The former philosophy student tells the stories of disabled young people living on the streets in Sierra Leone, where 11 years of civil war brought about an increase in disability — as a result of forced amputations and the collapse of the national health system, including childhood immunizations.
Libby Powell, who studied English and Philosophy, said: “It is both an honour and a challenge to tell somebody’s story. When the challenge is set in a poverty-stricken, post-war country such as Sierra Leone, where so many have a story to tell, it becomes all the more difficult. I will never forget the bravery and honesty of the young people who spoke to me in the hope of reaching out and speaking to the global community. These are children who have taught themselves to survive, achieve and forgive despite the obstacles in their way. I hope that the article highlights and celebrates their strength in confronting life with a disability in one of the poorest countries in the world.
The Guardian International Development Journalism Competition is an annual contest for amateur and professional journalists to raise important issues of international development to ensure they are not overlooked.
This year 400 amateur and professional journalists competed for 16 places to visit international programmes. Libby was one of eight writers who made the amateur journalist shortlist.
Tanya Barron, International Director at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “We are delighted that Libby’s excellent piece of reporting has won such a prestigious journalism competition and has helped to bring to light the stigma and ignorance that make life hard for the disabled young people of Sierra Leone.
“If you are disabled in the developing world, you are more likely to be poor, to miss out on an education and to be unemployed. We support children with disabilities to go to school, access vocational training and to get into work and encourage young disabled people to campaign for improvements in their communities through the Young Voices programme.”
Libby studied at The University of Nottingham between 2003 and 2006. During her time at Nottingham she founded and co-managed a student charity called Demo which held events to raise funds and awareness about international development and human rights. She was inspired to act by her boyfriend, who was shot in Gaza and passed away during her first year at the university.
In her final year, Libby was elected as Environmental and Social Justice Officer as part of the Student Union Executive team.
Libby’s passion for raising awareness of development issues has continued unabated, seeing her travel extensively and work with a number of human rights and community organisations abroad. She now works as a Programme Officer for Medical Aid for Palestinians, a non-Governmental organisation that works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees.
Libby said: “I was lucky to live and study within a brilliant community in Nottingham who challenged, encouraged and inspired one another. Debate and action went hand in hand, be it on a local or international level. There are challenges to face on most street corners, be it Radford, Freetown, or Gaza City. Joining local groups such as the Nottingham Student Peace Movement and setting up our charity Demo gave us a chance to explore different solutions to the global problems of exclusion, prejudice and injustice. Years later those same people who I worked and studied with in Nottingham have all found different ways to continue campaigning and exploring. Entering the Guardian competition was another way of trying to do just that.”
You can read the winning article by visiting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/journalismcompetition/sierra-leone-street-children
To find out more about this programme and to watch videos from Young Voices groups around the world, visit: www.lcdisability.org/youngvoices
Friday December 3 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The day is recognised by the UN as a day to focus media, policy-makers and campaigners on the situation of disabled people worldwide. The day has increased in profile since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) came into force in 2008.