ae EmmanuelEmmanuel Yeboah brings his inspiring life journey to Inner Light Ministries

It is widely considered a curse to be born disabled in Ghana, West Africa. If you are not poisoned or left for dead, you will most likely spend your life begging on the streets. Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana in 1977 with a severely deformed right leg. Lucky enough to be raised by a supportive mother, Yeboah became a national hero at age 25 when he successfully rode his bicycle, one-legged, across Ghana in 2002.

Yeboah says he was inspired to complete the ride because he wanted to change the perceptions of disabled people.

“[I wanted to] bring positive change, because of how people are treating disabled people in my country and Africa as a whole,” he says in an email to Good Times. “This makes me ride my bicycle.”

Today, Yeboah continues his mission to change the way disabled people are treated in Ghana and throughout the world. Yeboah is the subject of the documentary film, Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey, and travels the world giving lectures to raise awareness about disability in third world nations.

“The film, Emmanuel’s Gift, is a true story, so I came out with courage and love to show everyone that there is a way we can make changes,” Yeboah says.

Thanks to Cory Ybarra, founder of the local nonprofit, Building for Generations, Yeboah will speak in Santa Cruz on March 9 at the Inner Light Ministries in Soquel. Ybarra says the event would not have been possible without the help of local sponsors.

The event will feature a full screening of Emmanuel’s Gift and a dance to African drumming by local musician Malima Kone. Local nonprofits will present information and sell merchandise at booths.

ae Emmanuel2In addition to the Santa Cruz event—tickets are $20—Building for Generations booked a second, free engagement for Yeboah at San Jose State University’s Morris Dailey Auditorium on March 8.

Yeboah’s story is interwoven with that of Building for Generations. The organization began when Ybarra, the mother of a disabled son, took a trip to Tanzania where she was introduced to members of a local school. They asked her for help funding a three-unit classroom for disabled students. When she returned home unsure whether or not to orchestrate a fundraising project for the school, someone gave her a copy of Emmanuel’s Gift.

“I watched the movie and I was so inspired,” she says. “It moved me to just throw myself into the project.”

When the three-classroom block in Tanzania was completed in 2006, Building for Generations filed for nonprofit status.

“At that time someone suggested that perhaps I should try to do an event with Emmanuel, but it felt so far out of my reach,” she says. “And yet I have to say I felt like we were kindred spirits. He played such an important role in my story.”

Building for Generations went on to complete an aid project in Peru following the 2008 earthquake, as well as a local musical project for people with developmental disabilities.

“We were growing and doing bigger events to raise money,” she says. “I just looked at what I had raised in the past for events and calculated that it would be a risk for me to commit to Emmanuel, but wasn’t unreasonable. It was believable at this point.”

Ybarra called Yeboah’s publicist and sent the down payment, then set out to raise the money to bring him to Santa Cruz.

“Emmanuel actually called me,” says Ybarra. “I was kind of in shock when I picked the phone up and he said this is Emmanuel. And I thought I might be tongue tied, but instead I couldn’t stop talking, I was so excited, and told him what an inspiration he had been to me and our organization. His response was: ‘This was exactly what I want to do for people.’”

Yeboah’s connection with U.S. nonprofits and California in particular, is an important part of his story. When Yeboah originally decided to embark upon his historic ride, he wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) in the United States asking them not for help with his disability, but for a bicycle. They sent a bicycle to Ghana and, following his successful cross-country ride; the foundation flew Yeboah into Loma Linda Hospital in San Diego, Calif. There, the disabled portion of his right leg was amputated and he was fitted for a prosthetic leg.

“It was a shock to me for me to walk on two legs, but I was so happy to walk with two legs because it was the first time,” he says. Just weeks after he received the prosthetic leg, Emmanuel was walking, swimming and running.

The film, Emmanuel’s Gift, concludes with Emmanuel’s marriage, and the birth of his first child, whom he named Loma Linda.

Yeboah says his greatest hope is for the entire world to support disabled people the way they are supported in the United States.  

After he received his prosthetic leg, Emmanuel organized a program to bring wheelchairs to disabled people in Ghana. Emmanuel became the first handicapped individual to be invited to the king’s palace, where he awarded 15 handicapped children with educational scholarships.

With awards Emmanuel received from Nike and CAF, he founded the Emmanuel Educational Foundation and Sports Academy for the Physically Challenged.

The foundation has collaborated with other organizations on many projects, including one to create a bicycle workshop operated by and beneficial to handicapped people in Ghana.

“People should believe [in] disabled people, because disability is a gift,” he says. “My favorite part in this movie, Emmanuel’s Gift, is where I am giving the wheelchairs to the disabled people in Ghana, and how they’re smiling, happy to receive the chairs.”

He has also gone on to speak with politicians in the United States and Europe, as well as the Ghanaian prime minister, about the treatment of disabled people.

Foster Anderson became severely disabled in a motorcycle accident when he was 17 and is now the founder of the local nonprofit, Shared Adventures, which focuses on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities through access to outdoor and adventure sports. He says Yeboah’s story is a great inspiration to people with disabilities.

Ybarra told Foster about Yeboah a couple of years ago and he watched the documentary shortly after.

“I was so touched by watching it—it’s just like, ‘Alright, this guy is rocking off the Richter scales,’” says Anderson. “He didn’t dwell within his disability and he didn’t give up, sort of like me.”

Yeboah says his best piece of advice to people with disabilities is to believe in themselves.

“Keep on pounding until dreams come true because a dreamer fights to the end,” he says. “I want to go further to do more to help others in the world with courage and inspiration.”

Emmanuel Yeboah will speak at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9 at Inner Light Ministries, 5630 Soquel Drive, Soquel. Tickets are $20. For more information and tickets, call 465-9090, or visit BuildingforGenerations.com or BrownPaperTickets.com.

Photos:#1 Samson Chan #2 Lisa Lax

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