They Thought I Was Nothing

— By Omolara from Nigeria

It was a cold night one morning in July. I had woken up really sick and frail. All I now remember was that my mother, a passionate and caring mum, was in tears as I carefully laid in her arms; at this time, I was only two. Days later, the most playful child in the neighborhood was now legally blind. I could no longer see, so they thought I was nothing. I could no longer play, so they thought I was nothing. I could no longer go to school, they were sure I was nothing. It’s no surprise however that I didn’t know my father’s family until now.

A time soon came when I began school again. Even though it was later than usual, it was better than never. Being aware of the societal stereotypes that surrounded my life, I drew my strength from all of them. With all of the insults, discrimination, stigmatization, and isolation the world had to offer, I was not discouraged but instead these were all the source of my inspiration. I made up my mind to prove something out of nothing, after all, they already thought I was nothing. I soon took anything and everything that society had to offer, and made it into something.

First, I graduated as the best student in my class after my primary school education. Then, I made very good grades in my West African school certificate examination. Soon, I was in the tertiary institution, a polytechnic for that matter, when the biggest challenges appeared.


I was a student of Mass Communication in a class of about six hundred students and the only visually impaired student in the entire polytechnic. This was going to be difficult; but remember, I had a drive, a plan, and an objective to make something out of nothing. So, I gave it my all. I was sick many times because of malnutrition, and unable to pay school fees at times. But, at no time did I allow them to stop me.


I remember one day, I had gone to the social welfare unit in a church to seek for help to pay my school fees a second time. They had helped me the previous academic session and so I thought to go back to them again to see if they could help since I had nowhere else to go. My mother at this time had no job nor business. It was really sad that she could not pay for my fees. However, her moral support towards me was worth much more.


On this day, I had waited until dark because there was a crowd and we all had to take turns to see the panel of decision makers. They decide who they wanted to help. They even humiliated you before helping you. “What’s the point,” I began to say to myself as I sat down waiting for my turn. I felt really sorry for the way some people were being treated by this panel. My heart was beating really fast as I began to imagine the worse that could happen to me. Soon, it was my turn.


As I sat in front of them, presenting my case and trying to urge them to help me, I was suddenly shouted at and walked out of the room. I was told never to come again and to go seek help elsewhere. This was the most humiliated I would ever feel. I cried, but never blamed anyone for their hostility towards me. After all, the world was hostile to people like me. Society never gives us a chance. But, in my struggles, I learned never to blame anyone; remember, I still had a plan to become something.

 

After two years of hard work with severe hunger and hardships, I finally got what I wanted. I graduated as one of the best five in a class of about six hundred. This was definitely something out of nothing. At last, I was something. At this point, I knew I could do more. My journey had just begun. I became the pride of many and the pride of my community.

 

I soon got admitted into the university for my degree in English. I developed my passion of mentoring people with disabilities. I needed to tell my story to change history. My determination would never give up because I knew I was going places.


Soon, I started to attend conferences centered around persons with disabilities both locally and internationally. I began to make headlines in my family and community. I soon emerged as one of the one thousand Africans selected to participate in the Mandela Washington fellowship under the recognition of former president Barak Obama in 2016.


Today, I’m happy to be a part of someone’s story. I run an NGO that deals with issues surrounding persons with disabilities. I am a mentor and a coach to people with disabilities. I’m very happy today because I am something.

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My Nurse

Anibe — By Anibe from Nigeria

It was just months after my twentieth birthday when I had the unforgettable accident. I remember how one morning, as I laid in the hospital bed with my right leg hanging, it dawned on me that I may never walk again. The thought didn’t scare me. I was numb of all feeling, except for the burning sensation in my dangling leg.

From the corner of my eye, I saw someone coming in. I knew it was my nurse. You see, I called her my nurse because we became such close friends. No one else would check in at 3 am to see if I was really sleeping. Before then, I also never heard of a nurse who bought fruits for her patient. She had no child of her own, but was one of the kindest people I ever met. Like me, she loved books, and would always bring me some.

As I jotted down random thoughts in my diary that morning, I looked up and it was her, of course. I guess she knew I wasn’t in the mood for our usual gist. So, she pulled a seat beside my bed and watched as I wrote, without saying a word – because she didn’t have to. I wrote about how I would become a successful CEO. Only, right then, I didn’t believe it.

How could I have believed in anything when I could smell sickness and disinfectant everywhere? I was assaulted by these smells from the first day I was wheeled in. But they paled in comparison to the real problem – that patients died every day. And some of those still living would never get better. I knew because I saw it in their eyes. Then, there was me in that odd gown with talcum powder all over my body, because I could get bedsores from prolonged immobility. How could I have believed in anything? How?

A moment later, I thought back to one night, a year before when my roommate and I were talking. She kept saying that it couldn’t be stopped. “What?” I had asked. “Accidents, illnesses, and especially death.” She spoke slowly, her teeth seemed clenched, eyes focused straight up at the ceiling. When I pressed her for more, she said, “I’m afraid I’ll end up just killing myself.” At that time, it had given me shivers, a clammy feeling ran throughout my body. But I talked myself out of it, saying she was only being dramatic.

Well, here I was, a victim of an accident – one of the things she talked about! More than anything, I wanted to break free. I worried that I might remain tied to that bed. I was stuck. So I figured if I couldn’t change the situation, maybe I could pretend it wasn’t happening. My only bright moments were my nurse’s visits, books, and a small radio she got for me. They were my tickets out of whatever I thought I was in.

Many months later, I was discharged from the hospital with a slight limp, crutches, and the will to live again – thanks to my nurse. But two years after this memorable experience, I heard a sad news – my nurse had passed away. It was painful because I wasn’t sure if I thanked her enough for being nice to me, a total stranger. I felt guilty because I didn’t return some her books like I promised. I was confused because I didn’t understand why she had to die when the world didn’t have enough good people.

It’s been a long journey to personal growth and a lot has happened to make me the person I am today. But to her honour, I decided to start helping to make someone else’s pain less painful – no matter their colour, religion, or tribe. I take small steps towards this every day, and I hope my nurse is proud of me.

Rest in peace, my nurse.

From Peace Within to Progress in the World

Samantha (1) — By Samantha from Zimbabwe

Disability is not inability and this is a fact that many will not understand until they meet Tinashe, a young Zimbabwean male who has defied all odds to make it in the world despite the limitations he was born with. Peace begins from within and this is something he has proven to many people as his current progress is evidence to what one can achieve when one accepts themselves with the rightful support from family and the community.

Tinashe was born in April 1986 and is the third born in a family of four boys. He is handicapped and cannot use his hands for any job other than using his mobile phone, eating and writing. For motion, he uses a wheelchair to get around. Despite the fact that his condition was new in the family, his parents and siblings accepted him the way he was and supported him in any way they could. For his primary education Tinashe attended a school for the disabled where he settled well with the rest of the students. His father was his main pillar and ensured that his son never lacked in any sector of his life be it moral, financial, emotional or parental support.

For secondary level, he managed to attend a school for people with no disabilities and according to him, everyone treated him the same as every other able-bodied person. In 2002, his father passed away and his mother had to step in. In all this, his mother managed to fill the gap and ensure that Tinashe and his siblings never lacked anything. He managed to finish his Ordinary level in 2003.

The year 2005 was the beginning of a productive year for him as he managed to notice a need in his community. At that time a few people had mobile phones and there was a huge increase in the need for communication. With the support he managed to attain a handset and a sim card which he used to start a pay-phone business. In addition, he also sold recharge cards to the few who had cell-phones.

As the years passed by, the viability of his business also decreased as more people started owning phones. Coupled with the fact that there was a huge turnaround and downfall in the economy of Zimbabwe in 2008, he no longer managed to sustain his pay phone business. This led to the closure of his business and he had to have no income for months that year.

With the innovative spirit in him, he did not let the change and loss in business keep him down. In 2009, he started rearing chickens as he saw a need for them in his community. This is the business that he has been doing until now. Per each batch, he rears a total of 50 chickens. In addition to that project he also runs a tuck shop that sells wares and basic supplies to the citizens of his community. All this he does with the assistance of his mother and younger brother, who assist him with the hands-on stuff.

This man’s story inspired me as he did not let his condition be a reason for him to give up on life. Instead, he realised that he also still has the responsibility to fend for himself and his family. Despite the many obstacles he had to face in his projects, he continued to try and is still looking for other ways to increase his income.

Families, communities and countries have the key to progress and development and it starts with peace from within. As one comes to term with their background, ability, limitations, weaknesses, that’s when we can accept each other’s differences, opinions, background and dreams and that’s when we can expect progress to occur in all sectors and communities. If all families were like Tinashe’s family, we would neither have homeless, disabled people in the streets, nor would we have those who have decided to be regular street beggars. We all need support, so do they.

Mukhtar’s Inspiring Story

adan — By Adan from Somalia

“I started my high school education at the age of 46, and now I’m graduate with a bachelors degree.”

Mukhtar Moallim Ali was born in the bay region of Beydhabo city in 1965, where he studied the primary school and Koran (the holy book of Islamic religion). At the age of 15, his parents moved him to the Jamaame district, where he completed his intermediate school.

In 1978, he came Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. From 1978 until 2010, he worked in a small business of clothes and sweets, but he frequently made an effort to learn some mathematics, and the English language. He was married in 1994.

In 2010, he finally joined a great educational institute called Simad University, which totally shaped his future. He started working in admission assistance.

The management of this university has the culture of educating all their lower employees, for example, drivers, watchmen, etc.

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They urged Mukhtar to start high school, telling him that they will pay the tuition fee, so Mukhtar joined the commercial school in 2011. Fortunately, after two years, he finished the school, and enrolled in the same university he was working for. One month ago, he finished his bachelors degree in Public Administration.

Now he has a wife with eight children, and he is planning to start his second degree soon. He enjoys working as a senior worker at Simad, and he is now 52 years old.

What we can learn from this story:

  • That no one is too old to learn.
  • That your future’s brightness depends on your dedication and commitment.
  • That institutions should encourage their low level employees to learn and improve their lives.

Life

Nobantu Modise — By Nobantu from South Africa

As young as I am, my life has been jam-packed with many major turning points. Some have been almost picture perfect, “Kodak moments,” exciting and fun-filled throughout. Others have been humbling. Handfuls have, to my embarrassment, resembled the crazy chapters from “Bridget Jones’s Diary” a bit too much for my taste. Before your curiosity can develop any further, I will have to say: sorry for you but I will not be telling about these embarrassing events *smirk*. With that said, I will admit that isolating a single life changing experience has been a difficult task. Not because my life is void of perspective changers and inspiring experiences, but because there have been too many. It is quite appropriate that I am sharing all this on Mother’s Day, because one of my darkest experiences, which has forever changed me and added much wealth to my life, has to do with the beautiful woman whom I remember this day.

My worst nightmare began one chilly, overcast day in February 2012. My mother had been hospitalised for a week. After a series of tests had been administered, I was ushered into the doctor’s office and the moment that changed my life arrived as I heard the diagnosis of her condition: “Non- Hodgkin’s, Lymphoma.” To us ordinary folk, cancer. A rapidly spreading killer was mercilessly attacking my mother’s body cell by cell. In the months that followed it devastated her body, plunging her into a torrent of physical and emotional anguish which she often tried, unsuccessfully, to shield us all from. But it is close to impossible to mask the side-effects of chemotherapy. Especially since the only option at times was to rush her to the emergency room. Some things she could treat superficially, such as getting great French manicures to mask her nails turning black, or a wig to hide the hair loss. But no mother of three could hide plummeting down to 32 kg, or the low energy levels that limited her ability to lead an active life. 
Even though I was with her every day, I cannot imagine the fear she felt as she woke up to more days of facing the cancer, essentially a death sentence, which was forcing her body to betray her pulse by pulse. I can only imagine that battling this unwanted intruder without my late father by her side only amplified the fear that gripped her. Unlike what is seen in the movies, there was too much to process and too little time to grasp the gravity of what was unfolding, even though the horror of it all was like a cricket bat to the face every week.

My mother eventually passed away and I did what I could to keep moving. I worked, studied, and functioned well enough to appear “okay,” even though I was shattered, and a deep void lay behind the veil of every smile and appearance of professionalism. Until one day, three years later, the inevitable happened. The proverbial hinges flew off my windows, doors, and the walls, as my resistance crumbled and waves of grief flooded my life. I didn’t have the strength to keep moving away from the tornado of grief that had been pursuing me. It finally got its day with me. 
There really are no words adequate enough to describe the overwhelming grief of losing a loved one. It is a crucible. This is why people do not have the natural inclination to face their grief, but rather run or hide as much as possible. I mean… think about it… who would willingly dive into a bottomless pit of anguish without resistance? Who would “come quietly” when summoned to face the parts of life where the soul is so shattered that you feel irredeemable? Where every day, without fail, is the lowest of the low and you wonder if you will ever be yourself again? Who would honestly want to walk around as an empty shell, with vacant eyes, because whatever radiance of hope that glowed in their heart would be eclipsed by the shadow of death?

As difficult as grieving is to understand and to adjust to, it happens because we have loved deeply. Our grief testifies to the beauty and significance with which mankind has been created. A beauty which says that there never is and never can be a substitute for each human being, because every last one is significant and exceptional. Every last one of us comes into this world with gifts, a unique personality, and characteristics that cannot be replicated. This makes each person worth fighting for, and with every effort we have committed to as activists, to cultivate a life worth pursuing. As overwhelming as the years have been, I know that death is just a shadow. Not even death could shroud the richness given to my life by the amazing lives that my parents lived as anti-apartheid activists and nation builders in South Africa. Nothing and nobody can, in anyway, undermine the love, legacy, wisdom, and freedom that they taught me to embrace. Naturally, I am not talking about worshipping the dead because they were just as human and flawed as I am. Yet even that fact just affirms how special you and I are. We are special because as imperfect, crazy, or unusual as we may be, we can craft legacies and impact lives in ways others cannot. We just have to choose to do so.

Never Disabled

— By Omolara from Nigeria

Tunde is a visually impaired individual who lives in Lagos, Nigeria.


One fateful afternoon in July 2005, he was on his way from lectures during his final semester at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. 


He was strolling onto his street when he saw people running from his opposite direction. Immediately, he knew that some hoodlums must have started fighting again. He lived in a neighbourhood without peace. Day-in, day-out, it was one fight or another. Many young talents had been killed already. The worst part was that one never knew the reason behind the constant fighting in this neighbourhood, just the same as this faithful day.


Just as he tried to turn and run, he suddenly felt his eyes being stabbed. Tunde had been stabbed in the eyes by a stray broken bottle, thrown at him from afar by hoodlums.
When he gained consciousness, he was blind. Yes, in both eyes. This was the most difficult time in his life. He stopped his academics and lost his friends, his lover, and acquaintances.


Between 2005 and 2010, he began to keep himself busy by repairing the broken electronics in his house. Without his sight, he started by fixing torch lights, broken radios, and televisions. He had no friends, so he needed to make himself happy. Soon, he started to fix the mobile phones and computers in the house. His father could not believe what an extraordinary talent his son had grown to be.


According to him, “I didn’t know how he did it. Sometimes, they informed me in the morning that the TV in the house is broken. But when I return in the evening, it’s been fixed by Tunde.”


Tunde never gave up. Still without his sight, Tunde to date now fixes people’s cars. He has since gone back to school and is now loved and highly appreciated by many.

READ: The four letters that changed my life

Denis

— By Denis from Uganda

My personal story, the one that changed my life entirely, is about a habit. A good habit, reading. Reading, a thing I first learned from a person I would call a mentor. A well-known veteran TV journalist in Uganda, Bbaale Francis (RIP) was my lecturer during my first weeks in college.

In fact, it is in the middle of one of his lectures that he said: “Read. Keep yourself in the know by reading. This world is led by readers, readers prosper. Read expansively.” He pleaded, or at least his voice sounded pleading, to class members who appeared to be listening to him attentively.

In the back seat of the classroom, I sat in silence, trying to digest these words from an adored man whom many young journalists in the country aspired to emulate. I cannot speculate on the effect these words would have on the rest of the people in the classroom at the moment, but for me, they were metal, the magnet that is my brain attracted and grasped the words tightly.

His lectures, thereafter, never went without such encouraging words like ‘read expansively,’ which I noticed was his favorite phrase. He would list the numerous benefits of reading if one made it a part of normal life. (This was a few months before he died. He succumbed to cancer.)

Owing to his incessant advice, I had started reading, like he said; expansively. I read newspapers, surfed the internet to read long and short articles about anything and everything. I read inspirational books, wherein, I entered into the brains of the great people of the world. I got to know the different views people have on this thing called life. I would later start reading fiction for enjoyment. With reading, I travelled, was taken to places I have never been physically. I was driven to the past and given binoculars to glimpse into the future. I found it interesting and fun. I turned out to be an avid reader. My diction grew. Confidence and public speaking skills developed as well.

About six months into the habit of reading (in April 2015), I made a first attempt at writing. In life, I had never sat in a literature class. And besides doing exams, writing was not my thing. I was coming late to this craft.

I was approaching 21 years old when I happened upon writing, and not as a literature student but through sheer desire. I found it tough going at first. But I kept at it and refined my skills through trial and error. With dedication, I wrote, read about writing, and saw what other writers did. I learned rules, guidelines, and standards of writing.

I started visiting local magazines and websites and asked to volunteer as a writer, vague composition of sentences and a few grammatical errors notwithstanding. It was reading that would bail me out of the ditch. Interestingly, the first editors I approached echoed the same words; read. One said, “Reading is the raw material of writing, and every great writer is a great reader.”

The primary reason I share this story is: at 20 years old in 2014, before I started reading, I couldn’t even try to figure out where my life was leading. Today, only three years later, although I cannot confirm what life has in the bag for me, at least it gives me hope knowing I can combine words to make a sentence, and ravel several sentences to make a living.

I am an advocate for writing. I am a freelance journalist with the leading daily in Uganda. Writing, a skill I only learnt through reading, has taken me places and brought me to tables with important people. It has exposed me. Today, I continue reading not only to grow my skill, but to expand my knowledge on various issues. I am still learning, unlearning, and relearning.

Reading. It cannot be overemphasized. There are numerous benefits. READ.