Man with dis­abil­ity dreams of go­ing to space

Ox­ford grad­u­ate keen to level play­ing field for dis­abled

Sowetan - - Front Page - By Karabo Led­waba

A 28-year-old dis­abled man, who was not ex­pected to live past the age of five, is plan­ning on be­com­ing the first dis­abled per­son to travel to outer space.

Ed­die Ndopu, a grad­u­ate of Ox­ford Univer­sity, said he wanted to prove that with hu­man in­ge­nu­ity peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties can do what able peo­ple do.

“We don’t see dis­abled peo­ple hav­ing value in so­ci­ety. I want to cre­ate an iconic move­ment where dis­abil­ity and pos­si­bil­ity go to­gether,” he said.

Ndopu was born with the se­vere and rare de­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­der, spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy, which af­fects the ner­vous sys­tem’s abil­ity to control vol­un­tary mus­cles . He said as he has grown older, his con­di­tion has wors­ened.

“I used to be able to hold a fork and I can’t now. I need help with ev­ery­thing,” he said.

“There is a rea­son some­one with a dis­abil­ity has never been to space. It is hard, but with a lit­tle bit of in­ge­nu­ity any­thing is pos­si­ble,” he said.

Ndopu said with the help of tele­vi­sion gi­ant MTV, he will be doc­u­ment­ing his jour­ney cam­paign­ing to travel to space where he will de­liver a mes­sage com­piled by young peo­ple who feel ex­cluded by so­ci­ety.

“I want ev­ery­one to know what it will take for me to go to space. The tears, the fi­nanc­ing, the vul­ner­a­bil­ity that ev­ery­one will see,” he said.

Ndopu said he had been pre­pared for be­ing a global leader through his ed­u­ca­tion at the es­teemed African Lead­er­ship Acad­emy (ALA) where he saw what he was ca­pa­ble of.

“ALA was a real turn­ing point in my life. It changed the per­cep­tion I had of my­self. I saw my­self as a leader and as some­one who can in­spire change,” he said.

Ndopu also broke bar­ri­ers by be­com­ing the head of the Africa youth en­gage­ment pro­gramme in Amnesty In­ter­na­tional at the age of 25.

“I of­ten say to peo­ple that the more bar­ri­ers I break down the more in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity I find. There is no pipe­line of dis­abled pro­fes­sion­als, no sin­gle dis­abled CEO on the Jo­han­nes­burg Stock Ex­change,” he said.

These are some of the is­sues Ndopu wishes to speak about in his ad­dress from space to the United Nations.

He said he has been blessed to have a strong sup­port sys­tem, in­clud­ing his mother who he de­scribed as a fear­less woman. How­ever, he said not all dis­abled peo­ple had this sup­port.

Ndopu said his cam­paign had been viewed pos­i­tively by peo­ple all over the world. He was also a Bill and Melinda Gates goal keeper at the Global Cit­i­zen fes­tiv­i­ties this past week­end where he met in­ter­na­tional celebri­ties such as Oprah Win­frey.

“I want to in­flu­ence de­ci­sions. I want to be an icon and tran­scend struc­tures and bar­ri­ers, not just for dis­abled peo­ple,” he said.

/SUP­PLIED

Ed­die Ndopu refuses to let dis­abil­ity to stop him from do­ing what­ever able bod­ied peo­ple can do.

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