Mind Over Matter - Stories of Bilal, Tahmeena and Iqra
I was invited by DFID, British High Commission Islamabad, for their Global Disability Summit which I attended yesterday. I was interested in the Charter of Demands that they declared during the event, which I found to be very meticulously made. The event had multiple speakers that included people working for the disabled community and people with disabilities themselves. They shared their stories and achievements and it was phenomenal to see how they had done so much with their lives despite their challenges.
At the end of the event, I interviewed three people with separate disabilities so I could share some bits of their lives with you and what they think. I personally think we have a lot to learn from people that have lives different from ours; we just have to communicate with them.
Bilal was sitting on the same table as mine during the event. He was bound to a wheel chair, and I decided to cover his story. He was friendly and confident when I asked to interview him.
Bilal is 20 years old and he was born with what you call muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy causes progressive weakness and muscle wasting which worsens over time and eventually makes it difficult for people like Bilal to walk. He is currently doing his graduation in Computer Science from virtual University.
Upon asking about the challenges he faces, he said the struggle for wheel chair bound people is EVERYWHERE for people in Pakistan whether you go to the mall, parks, hotels, restaurants, and even in educational institutions because unfortunately the infrastructure is not wheel chair friendly. He said another one of the major problems is lack of awareness among the general public which leads them to be discriminating against people like him, judgmental and not sensitive enough. However, he feels he is completely used to it now and doesn't even feel it.
Growing up, he went to Lahore School System, and at that time he could still walk, and even climb stairs. But over time, his legs were becoming weaker and not growing while his upper body was growing and gaining mass until his legs could no longer support his weight. He started tripping a lot and was afraid to get seriously hurt and decided to completely switch to a wheel chair.
Bilal feels left out but he isn't unhappy because he accepts his situation as a reality that he cannot blame anyone for. He wishes to see the government develop infrastructures suitable to needs for people like him but he says
"waisay agar na bhi karain tau khair hay kyun kay ab tau aadat ho gayi hay. Main apna tareeka khud he nikaal laita hoon."
Tahmina is 28 years old and works with the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund which is a semi government organisation. She has done her Masters in Economics from Quaid-e-Azam University. Tahmina was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. This specific cancer is called Synovial Sarcoma which is seen very rarely and people diagnosed with this cancer have minimal survival chances but "I LIVED!" -(Tahmina with a big grin!) Because of this disease she had to get her leg amputated, get 6 doses of chemotherapy and a major lung surgery.
When I asked her what was the biggest challenge she faced after the leg amputation she said,
"Non-Acceptance, from the outer world"
She was studying at a government college in Islamabad before her amptutation, and when she went back to THE SAME institute to continue her education there, they refused to take her back. (I was shocked at this point! I mean, she WAS studying there before..)
"Unho nay mujhay dekha aur kaha nai aap nai aa sakti ab aap jaen."
She says she was extremely disappointed because education is a basic right and she couldn't believe that they were refusing to give it to her only because of her disability. She is however extremely grateful to her friends and family for the support. About the general public she said,
"Humna, people are supportive only when you support yourself. People won't accept you when you are feeling miserable about yourself. When you are vulnerable and crying and feeling crippled. You need to love yourself first, people will love you too!"
When I saw Iqra, her confidence shook me. I had never seen a woman with dwarfism carry herself so effortlessly and with such confidence. She was doing her thing, she was bold, and she was energetic! I knew I had to talk to her.
Iqrais a 22 year old woman, born with dwarfism. She works as a researcher in Empower Pakistan and is also studying Bcom IT privately. She was afraid of facing people in the public before but slowly and steadily she overcame the fear. She also realized that there were people with worse disabilities and so she gathered courage to face the world. She paved her path in the society and started working with different organisations and people. She was appointed in Azad Kashmir in the State Youth Assembly as a chief minister and worked on disabilities and has recently joined KPK Provincial Youth Assembly.
Growing up she had a lot of support from family and friends. She is the only child of her parents and they have encouraged her constantly to achieve her dreams. With their push, she has been able to achieve all that she has.
"Physical barriers are secondary, if you overcome mental barriers then physical ones are easier to deal with!"
According to her the government has not played a significant role in supporting the disabled community. There are several seminars and summits but we need to see implementation as well.
With that, this blog post comes to an end. Thank you so much for reading these stories! I hope you liked reading them so I can start sharing more of all kinds with you. I feel like sharing stories of people I personally interact with and share experiences that I witness firsthand. That's what makes blogging such a fun and meaningful experience for me.
Love and PVO