One of my favorite perks as a mother is that I get to discover picture books alongside my daughter. There are so many wonderful publications, a real treasure trove of humor, wits and inspiration that I had missed out on until I became a parent.
The latest picture book to have made an impact on our life is Emmanuel’s dream, the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. If you have never heard of Emmanuel before, let me introduce you.
Emmanuel was born in Ghana with a severely deformed right leg. In that country, 10% of the population is handicapped, yet disabled people, often seen as cursed by the Gods and a burden to society, are relegated to beg on the streets to survive.
Emmanuel’s mother, so appropriately named Comfort, saw another future for her son. She enrolled him in school where he was the only disabled child. He had to hobble to and from school on wobbly crutches his grandmother had found. He had to face the taunts of his classmates who refused to play with him. Emmanuel didn’t let that deter him. He made money shining shoes (1$/day) and bought a soccer ball, something no other kid at school owned. Soon he had won all of them over and enjoyed hours of fun on the red dirt soccer field.
Comfort died when Emmanuel was only 13. Abandoned by his father at birth, he was now also motherless. He took on the role of provider for his extended family and could no longer pursue his education. He moved to the nearest big town, where he knew nobody, in the hopes of making more money. A working handicapped man was unheard of in Ghana. It wasn’t easy to find a job but Emmanuel managed to double his earnings there and brought a whopping 2$/day.
All the while, Emmanuel had bigger plans not only for himself but for his community. He led a normal life despite his one deficient leg. He wanted to do something to improve the lives of those around him who still suffered.
Emmanuel wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), based in San Diego, California, asking for a bike so he could ride across Ghana to bring attention to the plight of the disabled. The foundation sent a bike. Pedaling with only one leg, Emmanuel rode 400 miles. He achieved what he had set out to do and so much more was about to happen.
The CAF was so impressed by him that they invited him to compete in a Triathlon Challenge held in San Diego.
This visit led to Emmanuel accepting an offer to undergo surgery at the Loma Linda University medical center and be fitted with a prosthetic leg. From then on, Emmanuel has been unstoppable.
He was awarded the CAF Most Inspirational Athlete of the Year Award and Nike’s Casey Martin award, titles that came attached to $50,000 in prize money.
Back in Ghana, he created the Emmanuel Education Fund to help promising students with disabilities. It has now broadened its reach and helps build schools for all children, disabled or not.
This one orphaned crippled boy from Africa has, against all odds, made the world a much better place.
He is an inspiration; the living proof that we are ALL capable of greatness…
…if only we dare try!
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