According to a WHO estimate, nearly 10% of the population of Africa has a disability of some kind. Yet, their stories remain untold due to stigmas surrounding disability that leave them cast out from society and at the mercy of the charity of others. Ghanaian Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born into this environment. Born poor with a deformed right leg, he was at-risk of suffering the same fate as other disabled Africans. But life has not panned out that way for Emmanuel. The indomitable spirit of his mother and his own determination to show others that he, and others like him, are more than their disability, has led him to shatter the expectations of what a poor, disabled boy could become.
A Childhood in Poverty
Emmanuel was born poor in Eastern Ghana with a deformed right leg. As a boy, his father abandoned him, and his mother raised him in a home that had no running water or electricity. He slept on a dirt floor.
His mother enrolled him in the local village school, adamant that he get an education, and carried him two miles to school each morning. When old enough, he hopped on his one leg to school and back, gaining his independence. At 13, his mother became ill, and he dropped out of school to make money for the family. It was then that he shined shoes, earning $2 for every 30 or 40 shoes.
After his mother’s passing, Emmanuel decided that he would ride a bicycle across Ghana, one-legged. The distance totaled about 400 miles, and his impressive project was accomplished in the spring of 2001. He was determined to show that his disability would not hold him back. Following the ride, he became a celebrity in Ghana, and from there completed a triathlon in which he rode 56 miles on his one leg.
In 2003 he received an opportunity to meet with doctors at Loma Linda Medical Center in California. His right leg was amputated and he was fit with a prosthetic. Emmanuel wore full-length trousers and two shoes for the first time in his life. When he walked into Church in a suit, he was heralded as a gift from God.
Emmanuel’s story soon attracted international attention. In 2005, his life became the focus of the documentary “Emmanuel’s Gift,” a project led by directors Nancy Stern and Lisa Lax and narrated by Oprah Winfrey. He also met with former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and former US president George W. Bush
Rise of a Champion
Emmanuel is a passionate advocate for the disabled of Ghana. In the time since he garnered international acclaim, Emmanuel has launched Emmanuel’s Dream, a nonprofit with a goal to realize the physical, emotional, and social needs of people with disabilities. He is also actively fundraising to build a school for disabled youth in Ghana.
Emmanuel’s rise to celebrity and his tireless advocacy for the disabled is not only inspirational but aspirational. His life serves as a guide for shattering society’s expectations and a constant reminder to never forget to lift up others.