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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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.

The Incredible Destiny of a Handicap

mamadou

— By Mamadou from Guinea

Once upon a time, in a small village in the midst of the thick green mountains of Foutah Djalon, lived some farmers whose source of livelihood was always determined by the season. During one of those seasons that it rained, there was a huge downpour and a son was born to the family of the Diallos. The rain barely subsided before his dad went from hut to hut in the entire village to share the good news with fellow villagers. The joy in the family knew no bounds. A week after his birth his parents gave him the name Mamadou. At this moment, no one could have imagined what the life of this little boy would be.

Three years later, Mamadou was growing up very fast for his age. He could play around the house of his parents under the admiring and watchful sight of his mother. One of the nights, Mamadou’s mother was awakened by his cry. Mamadou had become sick and this sickness would eventually change his life forever. His parents took him to the traditional doctors and healers in their village and other neighbouring villages to find a cure to this illness. These doctors could not help the child and convinced his parents that the young Mamadou has contracted an incurable disease from the evil spirits. This was the beginning of suffering for the little Mamadou and his mother. Some believed his mother is being punished for the sins she might have committed in the past and some claimed the boy is a wizard. A few months later into his illness, Mamadou lost his father and those who believed he was a wizard concluded he had claimed his first victim.
Mamadou lived under this condition until he was six years of age. At this age, he was supposed to be in school just like his mates. His mother had an important choice to make between leaving him at home to protect him from others and sending him to school so that he will have equal opportunity to excel in life like his mates. Fortunately, she settled for the second option. On the first day he was to leave for school, his mother was sad and in anguish, because she had doubts about if the other students would welcome him at school.


======Mamadou’s First Day in School:=========


The long awaited day arrived and he had to go to school. Very early in the morning, his mother woke him up and he prepared himself, wore his uniform and headed for school. On arrival, what his mother feared happened. When he arrived, all the children looked at him because he was the only one who walked with a stick. This was only the beginning of his troubles. At school, he had to sit with other children. The children had to sit two by two on a bench, a girl and a boy per bench. No girl wanted to sit next to him and yet he was not the ugliest in the class. He did not understand why all these girls rejected sitting with him. The teacher finally had him sit with another boy. At some point, he noticed several children who imitated his way of walking, which was quite different. He had resisted everything that has happened earlier in class but this time, he cried. He returned home in tears and with many other questions that also made his mother cry.

=====The Encounter that Changed His Life:========


Days and years passed quickly. In his nine years of study so far, he was never sent to write on the board like other students. Whenever his teachers wanted to send him there, his friends and his teacher made it clear that Mamadou could not go to write on the board. This happened until the day that his chemistry teacher Momo Camara forced him to go there (to the blackboard). “Mamadou on the board!” The teacher said and Mamadou, after nine years of studies, had to go to the board in front of his friends, he wrote, sweating, and finally everything went well. At the end of the course, Mr. Camara summoned Mamadou to his office. He said to him “Mamadou, it was not out of wickedness that I sent you to the board, it is because if I treat you in a special way you become a special person, which is not good for you. You know there are two types of disabilities: Physical disability and moral disability. You already are physically handicapped, with it alone, you can live your life but if you add the second (moral disability), your life will have no meaning. If you do not accept yourself as you are, know that others will never accept you. You have the choice.”


These remarks got him thinking. Since that day, Mamadou began to change the way he saw himself. He began to consider himself not as a person with a disability but as a person. From that day, he accepted no special treatment. Sadness was written all over his face whenever he was forced to sit on the edge of the field watching his friends playing football, sitting on a chair while his friends danced, or sitting alone while his friends are having a nice time with their girlfriends. Now when his friends play football, he is the goalkeeper. When they (his friends) dance, he dances too (hmmm, you need to see him dance) and as far as love goes (hmmm, that one is complicated). As each step passed, at each success, he shakes hands and quietly thanks Mr. Camara for the tips that he would share with each person who would be discriminated against. Grace to you Mr. Camara, my life now has a meaning, giving great happiness to my dear mother.


=========The School, His Saviour============


After eighteen years of study, the little Mamadou who was expected by all to be in a corner begging is now an engineer. He is gainfully employed and now lives with his family. That is not all. He works with organisations to educate parents to vaccinate their children against polio because he eventually learnt that his illness was because of poliomyelitis. He is also involved in encouraging parents to send disabled children to school because for him, education is the only way to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities.