Michael Delaney brings a humanitarian outlook to his new job.
“The fact that nine out of 10 children and young adults with visual impairment in developing countries go without education is a real crisis,” said Perkins International’s new executive director. “From a human rights perspective a statistic like that is unacceptable.”
Prior to joining Perkins in January, Delaney worked at Oxfam America, where he served for more than 15 years as the agency’s Humanitarian Division director. He recently spoke with us about his new role.
How would you describe your first two months on the job?
It’s been enlightening. I’ve learned something new every day. What’s really stuck with me is the commitment of the Perkins staff and of our global partners. There’s such a strong belief in our mission and a commitment to children with visual impairment – kids who without our help really don’t have a chance. Through our work, we are demonstrating to the world that every child can learn.
What’s your biggest takeaway so far?
I’ve just jumped into my work. I still don’t have anything hanging on the walls of my office. But I’ve been able to get involved right away and that’s a good thing. I think Perkins International is on the cusp of even greater impact.
What’s one thing people should know about Perkins International?
I recently had the opportunity to meet with officials from the Ministry of Education in Thailand. They talked about how 25 years ago they didn’t have any programs for children who are blind with multiple disabilities. When their parents brought them to school they were rejected. The government said, “No, we cannot educate your child. Your child cannot learn.” Slowly but surely, Perkins helped change this way of thinking by supporting small programs. And today the government is developing curriculum for teachers on multiple disability education. That’s the difference. Without Perkins’ presence around the world, there will be children locked out of educational opportunities.
How will Perkins International reach more of these children moving forward?
We’re focused on increasing the world’s supply of well-trained teachers, instructors and caregivers. Perkins International already trains educators in dozens of countries and we stand ready to ramp up this effort in 2016. We’re also interested in monitoring how governments around the world are performing. We’re looking to identify where the greatest needs are, where governments are making progress and where they might need our assistance.
Has your previous experience prepared you for what’s ahead?
My background in humanitarian development and disaster relief has helped in many different ways. Humanitarian disasters have their greatest impact on the most vulnerable. The children that Perkins International serves certainly belong in that category. And there remains a sense of urgency as well. Every day a child goes without access to education is a wasted day and a wasted benefit to society as a whole.