Professor works to develop disabilities center
In partnership with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, EWU professor and director of disabilities Romel Mackelprang is working to better the lives of people with disabilities in Ghana.
Their goal is to help people develop skills for life so that they are not reliant on other people or loans.
“We’re investing in people,” said Mackelprang. “The whole idea is to give them the opportunity to be successful in life.”
Mackelprang said that he invited Syracuse University to become involved because they have expertise in developing entrepreneurial concerns. Mackelprang, who hopes to get EWU more involved, has been working with Syracuse University for about a year.
Working with Mackelprang is Senior Vice President of Burton Blatt Institute Gary Shaheen.
The two have met with business universities in Ghana, Ghana’s deputy minister of health, government officials and others. Together, their work strives to help people with disabilities learn how to work and successfully run a business.
Mackelprang and Shaheen help them by means of loans and tools.
“We’re working on economic empowerment, education and health issues in Ghana,” said Mackelprang. “We are working to enhance economic empowerment for people with disabilities in Ghana. We’re also working with four universities in Ghana to enhance educational capabilities and collaboration including distance education.”
According to Mackelprang, he has been working with Syracuse University for a while and invited them to work with him on this project. In addition, Mackelprang, in collaboration with other universities, is working to develop more educational and business opportunities for people with disabilities.
Shaheen and Mackelprang are working with foundations to provide start-up loans for businesses and domestic universities.
The two are also working to help people develop the curriculum to do that. They have been working with disability organizations in Ghana to identify potential business people whom they feel they can work with.
“The problem is that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Ghana is about 90 percent. The way to help them earn a living … is help them build their own businesses. Syracuse University has expertise in these entrepreneur development projects,” Mackelprang said.
Last summer, Mackelprang took Eastern’s first group of study abroad students to Ghana. The group spent a month living in a rural village, doing humanitarian work and building capacity of the land for easier living.
According to him, the goal is to have students help train others with disabilities with skills needed for jobs and start-up businesses.
“It was such a wonderful experience just to go there and meet so many people and see how they live their lives day after day,” said junior Brian Mangis. “This experience taught me a lot about life and how some people live it. Going on this trip, I have learned so many things about what I go through and what they go through.”
To Mackelprang, the most destructive thing people can do is go into these countries and provide charity. His work has been investing in the people.
“Rather than my going in as a white person or a person from the United States and being the expert, I learn more from them than they learn from me, and anytime I work there, it is with the idea of how are we building capacity,” he said.
Mackelprang has been involved in humanitarian work for five years and has done work in six countries. He came to EWU in 1987 and is a professor in the school of social work. Prior to Eastern, he was the chief of social work at the University of Utah Medical Center for the Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Mackelprang earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology, doctorate in social work and clinic social worker degrees from the University of Utah.
“This is important to me because it has taught me a lot about how some people live their lives and what they go through,” said Mangis. “When we were going to Ghana, I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be one of the best times in my life.”