Michael Showunmi is a rainbow of many dazzling colours. Known to many as a relentless self-inspired Mathematics teacher, he is an odd defying varsity graduate, a disability advocate, motivational speaker and mentor to a teeming legion of those whose dream transcends the murky pool of despair.
Always beaming with hope adorned by his fadeless gap-toothed smiles, the young man is a survivor, having fought hard to stand tall because he wants generations coming behind him to see far.
He broke all possible glasses of barriers, put banes into the bag of shame through energies channelled towards raising stars in Lagos and other communities in Nigeria.
For Michael, extending the hands of olive to the poor physically challenged people on the streets and less-advantaged pupils is a towering vision beyond the crutches. He was a victim of disability who came from what he describes as a "less-privileged background" in Lagos, Nigeria.
"For me, it’s all about empathy and kindness. I know what it means to be out of school, what it means to miss classes, what it means for your parents to be unable to pay school fees because of hardship," the young man told Legit.ng in a conversation.
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The journey and everything propelling it
In 2020, the Chemical Engineering graduate from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) became the cynosure of the internet after a picture of him sharing food with a blind and physically challenged boy, Samuel, who he met in 2019 went viral.
But before then Michael had proven to be a revelation. In a post on his LinkedIn, he would explain how he put smiles on the faces of the students of Akinyele Alakuko Junior Secondary School in Lagos by donating sandals to them.
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Raising Star African Foundation
Triggered by the need to do more, in 2021 he formally launched a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) -- Raising Star African Foundation --with the objective to "reduce vulnerability and dependency among the differently-abled and less privileged children."
"I’ve been there before and I can relate. That’s why my team and I are on the lookout in every state taking children back to school. We are not just taking them back to school, we always have a plan for them to make it sustainable either by empowering their parents, especially their mother or putting the children on scholarships."
Michael told Legit.ng that the rationale behind the NGO is to give an equal voice to both the privileged and the less-privileged ones in the Nigerian society by "investing in their education, empowering them with lifelong skills and creating an inclusive environment that will be accessible to every child."
The disability advocate and motivation speaker said his team goes as far as renovating these schools to create a positive classroom so as to stimulate learning.
"We are children centred," he said.
Remaining positive in the face of disability challenges
Michael was not born with a disability. He was born like every child some years ago but when he was two or three years, he was hit by what would later turn out to be his biggest wings and motivation: Acute Flaccid Paralysis better known as polio --a disease rampant in Africa!
Although he has put the test before him, shrugging the bane off his heart, Michael said he is still a subject of stereotype.
However, there is no stop to his moving train. He said:
"Truth be told, I’ve not conquered all but I keep moving forward. Till now I still get stereotyped but I keep on developing my mind. I can’t change people’s opinion about me, so I don’t focus on that. I channel my energy wisely in developing my mind and having a mind shift towards life."
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As a person living with a disability, Michael said that society often thinks there is a limit to what he can achieve. But he proves them wrong, always!
In a way to tell the world he can achieve anything, the young man said he created a YouTube channel "Beyond Crutches" where he posts videos of "inspirations."
To Michael, his crutches are his wings. No wonder he has been able to fly beyond the limits set for him by the society he comes from.
"As a person living with disability, people thought that’s the end. I have a different perspective about these things. I see my crutches as wings that are enabling me to fly and soar higher. So 'Beyond Crutches' is my voice to tell the world you can still be anything you want to be and enjoy every bit of life in spite of any challenges you have," he explained.
A teacher and more to his pupils
Michael is a Mathematics teacher. But beyond the functions of the classroom, his students are like family members, with him being the "captain."
The young man said he sacrificed a lot for his students, including his weekends and free times because "I want the best for them always."
The plan and advice for people living with disability in Nigeria
Michael is not a lone man in the struggle towards the betterment of his society but he is ready to do more.
He told this reporter that his plan is to continue to develop himself and "to get as many children as possible back to school, especially in Nigeria and Africa at large."
His dream is to extend his influence across the globe and be the biggest inspiration to people across races.
"My simple advice for people living with a disability is 'channelling your energy in developing your mind. Don’t forget “as a man thinks, so is he. You will get stereotyped, people will belittle you but keep your heads high, don’t focus on people’s opinions about you, focus on God’s opinion about you," he said.