When Sonia was two-years-old, she contracted meningitis, causing her to have hearing loss and blindness and one eye. Today, the 19-year-old attends a college that is adapted to her specific needs, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Sonia is in her third year, studying for a diploma in hospitality. Once she’s finished with her studies, she hopes to open her own restaurant. But like many other students with disabilities, she’s concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect her plans for the future.
Living in poverty
Sonia lives with her mother and seven brothers and sisters nearly 19 miles from the country's capital, Ouagadougou, where she studies hospitality. During the academic year, she lives with a host family next to her college.
Her family is extremely poor. Sonia's mother grows vegetables on a plot of land and breeds a few animals. She extracts sand and gravel, and sells it in the city. Her brothers and sisters work in the fields. During breaks from school, Sonia helps take care of the peanut crop.
Attending college and learning a trade
Sonia will soon earn her diploma in hospitality, but her classes have been cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her school was closed for two months and now she is worried about her future. "It's difficult for a hard-of-hearing person like me to find a job because it’s not easy to communicate,” Sonia says. “When people don't understand what you're saying, or when they think you can't understand, they automatically pigeonhole you without thinking about what you are capable of."
Sonia often struggles to communicate with her host family in Ouagadougou. The family goes the extra mile to make her feel welcome, but they find it difficult to communicate because no one in the family knows sign language.
Obstacles to self-reliance
Living in a large city with heavy traffic is a challenge for Sonia. She's afraid to travel without help. “I find it frightening when I move around by myself, especially on a bike, because of my disability. If someone blows their horn, I can't hear it and my vision is also very limited. I can ride my bike in the village, but in the city, it's very difficult for me.”
School closure: future in jeopardy?
Schools and colleges were closed for two months to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and have only just reopened. Sonia's was no exception.
“I’m wondering how the college closure is going to impact on my future. I have to take an exam this year and I don't want to miss it. I'm trying very hard to succeed. My future depends on this college. I really need my diploma. Besides, I miss my courses and my classmates!"
After her diploma, Sonia plans to make her dream a reality by setting up and managing a small restaurant.
Humanity & Inclusion works to protect the most vulnerable
As COVID-19 takes aim at our planet's most vulnerable neighbors, we're ensuring that people with disabilities, people with injuries from conflict, children, women, and especially older people have the information--and even the soap--to stay healthy. Learn more about our COVID-19 response.