Retta Getachew

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Retta and I am in my mid-thirties. I used to work for an Ethiopian based local non-governmental organization (NGO) working to facilitate the inclusion of disabled people and disability issues in mainstream service delivery and development programs in Ethiopia. I worked there for eight years in various capacities including as its Executive Director before I came here. Prior to that, I taught in private and government colleges for more than 4 years. I hold a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Social Work.

What motivated you to apply for your course at Leeds?

I am passionate about disability issues and the causes of marginalized communities at large. I believe in development that is sustainable and inclusive of all people, regardless of age, sex, disability, etc. However, in my home country Ethiopia, which is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, it is disheartening to see that most disabled Ethiopians have not been participants and beneficiaries of this development and still live in dire poverty. I felt that there should be a lot more that we, professionals and leaders that were working to improve the lives of disabled people could collectively do to achieve better results. By joining the University of Leeds, which has one of the best disability centres in the world, I hoped to learn from the experiences in the UK, and other countries at the international level to gain new perspectives on bringing effective and sustainable changes to the lives of disabled people.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I have close disabled friends and relatives who, for no fault of their own, have had to go through a lot of challenges in their daily life. I have seen disabled children and young people experiencing attitudinal (stigma, stereotyping and misguided perceptions and attitudes), physical (inaccessible infrastructure-roads, buildings, transportation, etc), and communication (lack of sign language interpreters, Braille) barriers in their day-to-day life. These are challenges that I don’t have to worry as a non-disabled person. This unfair organization of the society and the world pains me all the time, and I strongly feel that, if I don’t contribute my own part, my children and my grandchildren will have to live in this kind of world. That is why I take disability seriously and have stayed in the movement for several years now.  

What did you think of your course?

I think the course is intellectually stimulating. It disrupts already held, taken for granted beliefs and opinions about disability and disabled people. It allows one to see the various sides of the debate around disability and enlightens students about the role of the UK disability movement in shaping the disability programme and research agenda. I really like the diversity of my class which brings together lovely people from different parts of the world, including from the UK. All lecturers have been quite knowledgeable and willing to share their expertise and experiences. The compulsory modules in the first semester tended to be theoretical but very interesting and stimulating. At the end of term one, I remember I felt lost because of my eagerness to hear the practical side of the course. The second term, however, was more focused on the practice and that made it even more interesting.

What do you think of the facilities?

The learning facilities are all great. Almost everything is automated and connected, which makes the whole learning process very easy. There are enough libraries, classrooms with mostly well-equipped facilities.

How do you find the student support?

I have witnessed that the student union and its student support system is one of the best. The dynamism and creativity of the union and the range of activities and supports that are available for students is commendable. I have always gotten the help I need easily and immediately. Union members and workers are all helpful.

Have you been involved in any extra-curricular activities?

I have tried the gym and other sporting facilities (including the wall climbing and the basketball court) within The Edge sports centre, which were really great.

What do you think about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is so beautiful. As a compact town, I found it easier to move around. The fact that the university is close to the city centre makes it even more attractive. I think the shopping centres and malls in the city along with the recreational areas (restaurants, bars, clubs, etc) are all great. The transport system is good and affordable. It has been very safe to move around. I have never faced racism or never felt treated differently. I will definitely miss Leeds.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to go back and continue working in the development sector. I have already been approached by various organizations in Ethiopia and I have finally signed a fulltime employment contract with an NGO working on children issues (including disabled children) at an Africa level. Going forward, I wish to keep working in the child rights advocacy and research field.