Systemic, structural and social barriers often prevent youth with disabilities from leading truly fulfilling lives, achieving their dreams and changing society for the better. To infuse the ecosystem with support and level the playing field, we started the Empower to Rise Fellowship in 2021.
‘Empower to Rise’ is an annual fellowship for youth with disabilities currently pursuing education. Through this fellowship, we hope to change the environment and foster learning and growth, participation and progress for our three fellows. The fellowship carries forward Rising Flame’s vision of empowering women and youth with disabilities by creating opportunities, building capacities and increasing social access and awareness.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the fundamental inequality young people with disabilities face in an unjust society,” says Nidhi Goyal, Founder and Executive Director, Rising Flame. “Students with disabilities have been overlooked by a callous education system, leaving them scrambling to participate in inaccessible online classes and make use of inaccessible resources. In this world where youth with disabilities have the odds stacked up against them, Empower to Rise aims to build better ecosystems and opportunities for youth with disabilities to thrive.”
The announcement of the Empower to Rise Fellowship in mid-May immediately generated a great deal of interest, especially among youth with disabilities. Rising Flame also made a dedicated effort to reach out to students with disabilities, especially outside the big metropolitan cities, through the organisation’s website, social media, online groups and emails to over 2,000 people. Applications poured in from across the country: from cities and small towns and villages; from students across nine disability groups and across genders; in English, in Hindi, in sign language and in audio-visual formats. A rigorous process was followed to finalise three winners from the 52 applicants.
Three youth with disabilities were selected for this fellowship in the inaugural year 2021. Each of them receives a financial award of Rs 50,000 and gets access to a six-month individual mentoring programme that supports their academic and professional goals. The cash amount can be used to set up their digital and technology requirements, improve accessibility of their physical and educational infrastructure, upgrade or buy assistive devices and software, pay for sign language interpreters and other support for inclusive participation and to gain further skills.
The three Empower to Rise Fellows for 2021 are:
- Ar An Ya, a 22 year old from Kolkata, West Bengal who is studying at Rabindra Bharati University: Calcutta School of Music. They have Autism Spectrum Condition. They like to introduce themselves as a neurodiverse person.
- Mansi Tyagi, a 21 year old from Muradnagar, Uttar Pradesh who is visually impaired. She has studied history and political science at Miranda House.
- Shireen Sultana, a 23 year old from Hojai, Assam who lives with multiple chronic conditions causing disability. She is in her 4th year studying Biology at IISER Kolkata.
Rising Flame is proud to equip these bright young people with the support they need to build promising futures. We hope each of them blazes a trail that makes it easier for others to follow.