Adolescents and youth

Girl wins International Children’s Peace Prize for promoting the rights of children with disabilities

UNICEF Image
© Roy Beusker
Michaela ‘Chaeli’ Mycroft accepts the International Children's Peace Prize at a ceremony at The Hague on 21 November 2011.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 22 February 2012 – Seventeen-year-old Michaela ‘Chaeli’ Mycroft was recently awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work promoting the rights of children with disabilities in South Africa.

The International Children’s Peace Prize is awarded annually to a child whose efforts have successfully addressed problems faced by children around the world.

In 2004, 9-year-old Chaeli did just this when – together with her sister and three friends – she founded the Chaeli Campaign, an organization that provides equipment, physical therapy and programmes for children with disabilities, and advocates on their behalf.

Fighting for rights and inclusion

The girls started the campaign with the aim of raising enough money to buy a motorized wheelchair for Chaeli. Born with cerebral palsy, Chaeli has limited function in her legs and arms.

Her sister and friends designed and made postcards to sell in the streets. In less than 7 weeks, they had raised enough money to buy the wheelchair. Realizing that their efforts had even greater potential, they decided to continue working on behalf of other children with disabilities. They also began fight for the rights and inclusion of children with disabilities all over South Africa.

“We were working as a team and we have been a team for our entire lives,” Chaeli said. “We are very good at working together and we have a connection that really worked in our favour. I also knew that it was a good thing for me, so I was motivated.”

The campaign grew into a professional organization that helps more than 3,000 children a year, offering a variety of programmes ranging from physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy. The organization also provides equipment to children with disabilities, from wheelchairs to custom-made assistance devices for improving posture, and works on education programs that support the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream schools.

“We believe that inclusive education can really happen if a person with disability is supported,” Chaeli said, adding that families, teachers and students who are part of the child’s life need support as well. “Getting kids to mainstream environments is the first step to inclusive education,” said Chaeli.

‘Exciting opportunities’

Chaeli received the prestigious award at a ceremony in The Hague on 21 November 2011. The event was attended by more than 400 national and international guests, including representatives from governments, industry and non-governmental organizations. UNICEF Chief of Child Protection Susan Bissell spoke at the ceremony, and the prize was presented by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire.

Attached to the award is €100,000 for the organization to spend on projects that improve the lives of children with disabilities and promote their inclusion in society. The award has also given the Chaeli Campaign an opportunity to raise awareness about the issues facing children with disabilities.

“It has given me an international platform to share my message, and it’s going to bring a lot of exciting opportunities,” Chaeli said.

Discussing her plans, she said she is optimistic about the future and emboldened to do even more.

“I am going to be an ability activist, but I also want to become known for things that I do as an adult, as well as being known for the Chaeli Campaign,” she said. “I want to have my own identity that is not just the kid that started the organization. I am excited for the future. It’s going to be good.”


 

 

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