ABILITY activisit Michaela “Chaeli” Mycroft’s work at inspiring disabled youngsters continues to receive international recognition. She is preparing to fly to Europe again where she will be the keynote speaker at a Unicef conference in Paris next month to promote the rights of children with disabilities.
The 17-year-old from Bergvliet is co-founder of The Chaeli Campaign, which has helped more than 3 000 children with accessing wheelchairs, physical therapy and hearing aids, among other things.
In Grade 12 at Reddam House in Tokai, Chaeli says she is determined to live her life without limits, despite her disability.
“My keynote address will be about encouraging disabled young people to claim responsibility for their lives and not be intimidated by things they cannot do. Also, to teach able-bodied people about how to treat disabled people to promote an accepting environment,” she says.
Chaeli says travelling makes her aware of how, in most places across the city and other African countries, accessibility for disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs, is still a major struggle.
“Abroad, disabled people are well catered for, which makes it easier for them to get around on their own. Here buses and taxis are not wheelchair-friendly and most buildings don’t have ramp access. This means you have to depend on others when you travel, which is why most of us end up staying at home,“ she says.
Her sister Erin, 19, will join her in Paris and the two are looking forward to exploring Europe.
Chaeli was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months old, and later, at age six, with degenerative neuropathy. Since then she has been confined to a wheelchair.
Nine years ago, she, along with her sister and friends, founded the Chaeli Campaign, after they received more donations than they expected during a fund-raising event for a motorised wheelchair for her.
Chaeli’s mother, Zelda, who is CEO of the campaign, says that in April this year they launched one of their biggest and most exciting projects – the Resource and Therapy Room at the Chaeli Cottage in Culm Road, Plumstead.
They are now able to offer physio, occupational and speech therapy to a group of children with low functional motor skills and chronic epilepsy.
“We focus on language. We teach them to open up and interact by using sounds and body language. Most of them were turned away from special schools and told they couldn’t learn. Here we give them a sense of belonging and they strive when they see that they are loved,” says Chaeli.
Parents pay a monthly donation fee that goes towards teachers’ salaries and resources.
“The parents are relieved that their children are at least getting an education… here they are given a chance to play and learn like normal children,” she says.
To celebrate International Day of Peace on September 21, Chaeli’s organisation has launched the Chaeli Peace Pop, to raise money for more programmes. They are selling lollipops that can be purchased in bulk at the cottage.
The organisation also has an advocacy programme through which disabled children from impoverished communities are encouraged to express themselves through art, poetry and writing.
The Unicef speech is the latest in a growing list of accolades for Chaeli, who won the 2011 International Children’s Peace Prize, which is presented to an extraordinary child whose acts have made a difference in countering problems that affect children across the world.
This year Chaeli became the first recipient of the Medal for Social Activism at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in the US, and was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 most influential young people.
Next year Chaeli will be studying towards a degree in politics and philosophy at UCT and plans to live away from home.
“I am looking forward to the freedom of having to choose the subjects that I like, unlike school. I will be able to sleep more since I will be on my own… I love sleeping,” she jokes.
l To order Chaeli’s Peace Pops, call 021 761 4326.