The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Building a Future for All

By Kody Olson
Public Policy Director for the Minnesota Council on Disability And World Food Prize Youth Program Al

“If I have anything to contribute to this world, I’m going to play that card and I’m going to play it hard.” –Dr. Norman E. Borlaug

Growing up in rural Iowa being a deaf farm boy came with a lot of tough lessons. One of the most important things that I learned is that we don’t build our world for everybody. As a person with a disability, I faced many barriers towards inclusion and was constantly under pressure to self-advocate for my civil rights. I was fortunate that my community was supportive and had resources to be inclusive for me when I advocated for it.

I had a lot of passion growing up that I didn’t know how to apply until I attended the Iowa Youth Institute with the World Food Prize. While I faced my own challenges, my worldview opened up when I learned about the many complexities that people everywhere face. I was invited to attend the Global Youth Institute and before I knew it I found myself on an internship in Mexico! Thanks to the World Food Prize, I spent a summer at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center conducting research in the same fields where Dr. Norman Borlaug built the Green Revolution.
My time with the World Food Prize inspired me to enroll at Iowa State University to learn how to solve problems.  Norman Borlaug left behind a legacy of cleaning up such problems, and I knew that was the card I wanted to play and I wanted to play it hard.

The lessons that I learned from a young age came back years later and hit me really hard when, visiting a village in rural Uganda, I met a Deaf family. Mom, Dad and the youngest child were Deaf, while the oldest sibling was hearing and did not have a disability. None of the family members who were Deaf had any education. The reason was that their school systems did not have the resources to accommodate their education and they faced social stigma for having a disability.

Given their limited resources, the family chose to send their hearing child to school and keep the Deaf son home to work on the farm. This is a sad reality around the world, but especially true in developing nations.

There is evidence to support that children with disabilities are less likely to attend school or access healthcare, and as a result, be more vulnerable to poverty.[1] The school participation deficit associated with disability is often larger than deficits related to other characteristics, such as gender.[2]  One could see how this creates a vicious cycle of low educational attainment and subsequent poverty among people with disabilities in developing countries. The prevalence of disability is expected to increase due to aging populations and an increase in chronic health conditions, further supporting the need to urgently address disability needs globally.

We have to build policy solutions that work for everybody. A fix that doesn’t serve everybody is not a solution at all. Meeting that Deaf family in Uganda is something I think about every day in my job. The location of your birth should not be a relevant factor in your success, but I had to face my privilege that day when I, a Deaf college student from the US, met the Deaf Ugandan boy who was denied a basic education because of his disability. He could be just as successful as I am, had the same resources been available to his community and family.

We can and must build a better and more inclusive future for all.

04/08/2019 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
That was such a moving piece to read. We need you Mr. Olson. That you for being an outspoken voice for necessary change and thank you for all the action you take.

Amy St Mikael

Amy St Mikael | | 04/08/2019 1:20 PM
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