For Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) in Nigeria, there are numerous mile-high odds to contend with. These include restricted access to transportation, education, employment and even health care due to inadequate purpose-specific facilities that meet their special needs. In addition, they are also stigmatized.
The National Population Commission (NPC), in 2018, disclosed that 19 million people live with one form of disability or the other in the country.
As a result of the challenges, PLWDs, particularly those gifted with a skill or willing to learn a craft in the arts, are inhibited from doing so.
A 2018 report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) stated that out of the estimated 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, about five to seven million are children with disabilities.
Many of the affected children are, therefore, deprived of receiving quality education and grow up as educationally-deficient.
It is this gap on the opportunity scale that a group, Street Project Foundation (SPF), seeks to bridge by its decision to include persons with disabilities in its Creative Youth Boot Camp initiative.
The programme, which is supported by VOICE, was launched in 2016 to provide opportunities for 16 to 25-year olds with talents in the creative, visual and performing arts to be mentored by industry experts.
A 2018 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on Creative Economy Output stated that the global market size for creative goods expanded substantially from $208 billion in 2002 to $509 billion in 2015.
Also, trade in creative services increased from 17.3 per cent in 2011 to 18.9 per cent in 2015.
The report noted that exports of Nigeria's creative industries as of 2015 stood at $9.12 million, its lowest since 2006; while its imports for the same period amounted to $401.89 million.
Understanding the importance of the commercial and cultural values of the arts to the country, as well as being an empowerment tool for young Nigerians, the SPF, through the boot camp, therefore, offers singers, musicians, poets, creative writers, presenters, comedians, spoken word artists, actors, visual artists, fashion enthusiasts and performance artists of any kind the chance to pursue their passion, while giving them a platform to showcase their talents.
This year's edition, the fourth, since inception, has as its theme: 'Art for Social Transformation', and will run for six weeks, starting from 9 March.
Speaking on the programme, Rita Ezenwa-Okoro, Founder and Lead Visionary of SPF, explained that the boot camp was conceived with a special focus on creative arts and vocational skills in order to improve the skillset of the Nigerian youth.
"SPF was set up to focus on youth development, using creative arts as a tool. When you are teaching drama for instance, you are teaching young people diction (communication); when you are teaching dance, you are teaching stance, public speaking and non- verbal communication; when you are teaching improvisation, you are building their critical thinking skills. That was what birthed the creative youth boot camp," she said.
But, more importantly, it also offers an opportunity for PLWDs, who may have been denied opportunities by societal factors, a chance to express themselves.
Ezenwa-Okoro stated that this year's boot camp has been designed to encourage young persons with special needs to participate in order to forge a career path for themselves.