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How access to education changed the trajectory of my entire life

Paul looking very happy to be shaking hands with Lord Snowdon

About me

My name is Paul Ntulila; 27 years ago I left Tanzania, East Africa, with my parents and my older sister, to move to the UK for a better life. My parents had their suspicions about my deafness but I wasn't formally diagnosed until the age of 3, after we moved to London. I grew up in the London borough of Newham which at the time was well known for being an area of poverty.

Being the only deaf member of a hearing family meant facing multiple challenges, particularly with communication; like many deaf people, British Sign Language (BSL) is my first language and I struggle to communicate with people using spoken or written English. This was particularly true in school; I went to mainstream schools but was lucky enough to have teachers who inspired me and made sure that I didn’t give up on my education. This is something which still defines me and that I care about greatly. From a young age I realised the importance of education and how difficult it was to overcome the barriers to it.

Overcoming barriers

In 2013, I was accepted into the ‘UpRising Leadership programme’; unfortunately, as a small charity there was no budget available to pay for interpreters and I could not attend. I was devastated. I asked to defer my place in the hope of sourcing additional funding. I knew this course was something I just had to do and I did not want to miss out on the opportunity. It was my employer at the time who suggested that I look at Snowdon Trust. I was skeptical because I was not sure that a course run by a small charity would fit their criteria; with nothing to lose, I filled in the application.

The application process was really simple and completely accessible; Snowdon Trust were able to accommodate and make any adjustments as needed. There was a selection process, but the most important criteria is that you have a Disability and you are facing barriers to education; that’s it.

My application was successful and I was awarded £2,200 towards interpreters for the duration of the six month course. I was able to use this alongside another fund from uprising’s partner university, to cover the costs required. The leadership programme changed my life; it opened doors and presented opportunities I thought were closed to me. It’s given me insight and knowledge and helped discover who I am and what I want to do. Without Snowdon Trust support, it would not have been possible.

Snowdon Trust

Snowdon Trust is an amazing organisation, a unique charity that helps many disabled students overcome barriers to education. There are a lot of brilliant role models, disabled and non-disabled, who are very passionate about helping people. As an alumni I was invited to attend a reception at the House of Lords – a fantastic opportunity to meet inspiring disabled students and find out about other people’s experiences in education.

Beyond funding, Snowdon Trust are working to harness the skills and knowledge of their alumni through the Disabled Leaders Network (developed in partnership with Global Disability Innovation Hub). The network provides a platform for Scholarship Holders and Alumni to build relationships with other exceptional disabled leaders, creating a hub of information, knowledge and support to drive achievement beyond academia and into the workplace.

My tips

Thinking about going back into or continuing your education? Here’s my advice;

  • Don’t think about your disability as something you can’t do or in a negative way. You have a unique perspective; one that isn’t part of the mainstream, and that’s very important
  • Apply for a scholarship or grant from Snowdon Trust
  • There is no negative side to improving your education, you have nothing to lose
  • Be positive but be prepared to be challenged, in a good way
  • You already have the skill to overcome everyday barriers - pass that knowledge onto others

Snowdon Trust changed the trajectory of my entire life. Without their scholarship, I would not have been able to achieve as much as I have; personally and professionally. As an Assistant Project Manager for GDI Hub, I am now helping manage the Disabled Leaders Network, and I couldn’t be more delighted. There are exciting plans ahead, and I look forward to shaping the future of this dynamic network.