Up first is CEO & Founder of Jonas Umbrellas, Josh Pavano. Our entrepreneurial friend is based out of Connecticut, sells funky umbrellas to build water wells in Africa, and has a precious little brother with special needs:
My brother was adopted at the age of one and half, but we actually had him in our house from the moment he left the hospital. I was twelve when I first held him. He is my only brother, and although our age difference is pretty significant, we have a really special bond. It has been one of the most challenging and significant experiences in my life being a big brother to someone with special needs, especially one that is adopted and a different race. There are so many daily challenges that come from dealing with that dynamic, but it’s the time we get together that wipes all those things away.
Through being his brother, I have learned that you can never judge someone. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it isn’t something that actually happens until your stereotypes and expectations are shattered over and over again. And children in the special needs world will continuously alter your perception and expectations with the amazing things they can do. I’ve heard over and over again from teachers, evaluators, and doctors, “Your brother can’t… Your brother won’t be able to…” and he always seems to find a way. He’s taught me that anything is possible. And that even if you have special needs you are special and have amazing talents that the world deserves to see.
The statistics facing children with disabilities in Africa are sad and sick. The idea of “cleansing” in which girls with special needs are raped to somehow "rid" their predator of AIDS made my stomach turn. I feel so lucky that my brother has been provided the services he has. Although the services in the United States always could use work, some of the programs he has been blessed to be involved in are astounding and have been really impactful. It is really sad to know so many talented and beautiful people are being treated with such disrespect around the globe.
Uphold brings awareness to issues that most people in the developed world don’t have an understanding of. Their focus on education and their follow-up with the schools they decide to help is something that creates sustainable change. It is a tall task to break a culture, but all it takes is the success of a few children with disabilities to show the world that their lives are worth fighting for. But these kids can’t succeed on their own, especially not in that environment. That is why Uphold Global is necessary.