From community advocacy to an aspiring politician

Ashura Michael

Former Young Voices participant, Ashura Michael, reflects on her journey from community advocacy to an aspiring politician. Ashura is running in the Kenyan Senate Elections and hopes to become the first female deaf legislator in Kenya.

Ashura Michael from our young voices programme speaking at an event

I was four years old when I lost my hearing following a bout of measles. Growing up in Kenya, there weren’t always equal opportunities for people with disabilities. As I got older, I knew I wanted to make a positive change for disability rights in my country. But when I started out – I never could have imagined I’d be running for a Senate seat. Yet here I am!

Where my advocacy journey began

I think my advocacy journey really began when I joined Leonard Cheshire’s Young Voices project back in 2011. Another young disabled person told me about the programme. They invited me to one of the meetings, and I thought, why not? I found myself really interested in the topics of discussion! I was in my first year of college doing a diploma in Law at the time and didn’t know much about politics. But I was keen to learn more! So I made it my business to attend weekly meetings at Leonard Cheshire’s office in Nairobi.

The meetings really fuelled my passion as a Law student. They made me want to be an activist for the rights of persons with disabilities. Being part of Young Voices was an amazing experience. It exposed me to so many things that I never dreamed of! One of my favourite moments was when I had the opportunity to speak in a high-level meeting at a young age. And I also had the opportunity to meet the Queen and the Blairs! Those are moments I will always cherish.

As part of the programme, we actively lobbied for opportunities for other people with disabilities. This included lobbying to have sing language interpreters on all local TV channels. I also lobbied for the formation of the disability league within my political party. And I advocated for the importance of social inclusion in Kenya. People with disabilities need to be more included!

No change can happen if you are not into it or not fully ready to be exposed to new situations. You need to wake up and grab every opportunity that comes your way.

Becoming a mentor

After participating in community advocacy as part of Young Voices from 2011-2014, I became a mentor and role model for other young people with disabilities. But I wanted to take my advocacy journey further. So in this year’s Kenyan Elections, I decided to run for a Senate seat. Inequality in my country has pushed me to vie for the position. There’s an imbalance of resources for persons with disabilities. Not to mention a legal framework and laws and policies that are not inclusive. We have never had a deaf person in the upper houses representing our interests. And most women with disabilities have been discouraged from participating in politics.

It’s time for change! I want to change perspectives and be the change I want to see. At the moment, inequality is denying people with disabilities opportunities to live and achieve their dreams. I want to see a much more equal society where everyone is valued. Don’t get me wrong. Campaigning hasn’t been easy. Some people question if I will manage, and think because I am Deaf, I won’t be able to address the issues. But it’s not something that is going to pull me down. And it just makes me want to challenge those negative perceptions even more! I will fight as much as I can to prove nothing is impossible. People with disabilities should be at the table addressing the issues and giving solutions.

My advice for getting into advocacy

For any young disabled person looking to get into advocacy, I’d say you have to be you. No change can happen if you are not into it or not fully ready to be exposed to new situations. You need to wake up and grab every opportunity that comes your way. And remember that there is no advocacy journey or a journey to success that will come easy. You have to fight and overcome all the bumps on your way. And you have to accept the fact that you will fall many times before you get to where you want to be. Always appreciate these obstacles. They help create the right path to success.

Looking forward, my hope is to leave a legacy and change negative perspectives about women, youth, and persons with disabilities. But most importantly, to break the bias against young women with disabilities who are striving to change the world. The time is now.