Yetnebursh Nigussie, at only 35-years-old, has won the 2017 Right Livelihood Award – an award known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” in Sweden. Nigussie is a blind human rights lawyer from Ethiopia, and she shares this prize and its award of three million Swedish crowns ($374,000 USD) with Indian human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves, American environmental lawyer Robert Bilott, and Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova.
Nigussie’s own contributions are distinct and remarkable. She has helped to expand and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities, both in her personal life and her professional work.
“I really want to see a world where nobody is discriminated because of his or her disability or any other status,” she said to the Thompson Reuters Foundation. “I started my fight, not by telling people, but showing people that I’m able to contribute. I have one disability but I have 99 abilities.”
After losing her eyesight at the age of five, Nigussie was enrolled at a boarding school for students with disabilities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Nigussie has mentioned that her disability gave her the opportunity to escape a young marriage, which was common in the region that she grew up in. Thanks to her persistence and dedication to education, Nigussie was able to attend Addis Ababa University, earning two degrees in law and social work.
Throughout her university experience, she was one of the few disabled students at the university. She used audio recordings and braille to learn. She engaged in many notable extracurriculars in school, including the Anti-AIDS Movement and the Female Students Association.
Nigussie is now a senior adviser at a disabilities rights charity, and she has served on over 20 organizations, including the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development, which she founded herself. She has also been working with LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, an international non-governmental organization that used to solely focus on blindness, but has since expanded to promote rights and opportunities for people with various disabilities.
LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is active in a number of developing countries, including: Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Mozambique, Rwanda, DR Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Northeast India, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to the United Nations, there is an estimated number of 500 million disabled people in the world, and at least 350 million of them live in countries where services that might help them are not available or accessible.
Growing up in a developing nation herself, Yetnebursh Nigussie beat the odds. She is now working to make sure that people with disabilities are more included in all parts of society.
The Right Livelihood Award began in 1980 and honors people for the impact that they have made globally, regardless of category or field. Nigussie was awarded for helping those with disabilities realize their full potential, as well as changing the views and stigmas around those with disabilities.
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