Defying the odds: from disability to entrepreneurship and advocacy

My name is Fatoumatta, I’m a disabled young person, but now I know that doesn’t mean I can’t do something for myself.

Thanks to SOS Children’s Villages Youth Training and Employability Project (YTEP) in Basse, where I live, I now have my own business, was elected a councillor for disabled people, won the National Heroes Award for Disabled Persons, and am working at the Women Empowerment Project (Orange House), where we make beads and diapers.

Finding her path

When I heard about the Youth Training and Employability Project (YTEP), I decided to join because I thought it would help, especially for disabled women like me.

When I arrived at the training centre, I was asked whether I could sew. My response was ‘no, where have you seen a disabled person sewing?’ But they insisted I could do it.

I spent six months training and was later employed by the centre.

During my six months at the training centre, I would share products I’d sewn on Facebook and a lot of people commented and liked them. From there, I was given my own machine to use and I was given four interns who spent three months with me learning to sew.

Then I decided to open my own boutique, to care for my family and myself. I leave my house at 8am to go to the centre and leave by 4pm. From there, I go to my boutique to work sewing clothes, bags and shoes for children and adults.

When my wheelchair gets damaged, I can use my money to repair it. If I’m sick, I can use my money to get medication. If I need clothes, I can use my money to buy my own clothes. Through my boutique I can also support my family and I help other disabled people too, supporting them to learn skills in my boutique.

That is why I respect and value the Youth Training and Employability Project.

All I have and am doing now is because of the support from YTEP. If I didn’t have the opportunity to go to YTEP, I wouldn’t be able to do all this.

Before people were taking care of me but now, I pay my bills, house rent, my shopping. If I was not educated or didn’t have the knowledge I do now, I would be going out to beg on the street. But just look at me now!

I want others to benefit from the project just like I have. I will never forget YTEP.

Becoming a role model and advocate

I’m now a councillor for disabled people and have been in this position for two months.

Part of my plan as a councillor is to speak to all disabled people in my area and ask them what they want. We have different types of disabled people – for example I’m physically disabled, but some are blind, deaf, and we all have different opinions and ideas, so it’s good to share and include all.

What they tell me, I then share with the council, the media and other platforms to seek support for them.

And every meeting I have with disabled people, I tell them if you’re doing nothing, this won’t help. SOS Children’s Villages is here. If you can’t sew, you can try catering, computer repair and much more. When you have all this knowledge, so many positives can happen in your life.

Some of them tell me that they’re ashamed. I tell them don’t be ashamed of your situation. We are all differently able. Now, a lot of them have seen what I tell them.

Not slowing down yet

I then won the National Heroes Award for Disabled Persons. I never imagined that I would win, but it’s about hard work. If you work hard, people will recognise your work.

But I won’t stop here. I want to win the international award and so much more.

I’m also seeking support with my wheelchair. I want a good one because this one isn’t disability friendly. As much as you love working, if you don’t have mobility it’s difficult. And I’m also seeking support for my fellow disabled people, in business and training. I just want support for them.

I also want my shop to grow, where I will employ disabled people.

I’m a woman and today, what men can do, I try to do the same. I’m proud to be a disabled woman and don’t underrate myself.

Thank you for making this possible

SOS Children’s Villages UK would like to thank all our kind corporate supporters, who make stories like Fatoumatta’s possible by funding our Youth Training and Employability Project (YTEP) in The Gambia.

To find out about some more of our youth employability training and skills development work as part of the YouthCan! Initiative, please visit click here.

Or, to find out how your company can get involved and make a life-changing difference, click here.

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