Photo Courtesy: http://www.terapeak.com/

Continuation from chapter two: https://lubnah.me.ke/spreading-the-wings-chapter-2/


“Being born in an Asian society with disability has a stigma of its own and discrimination. This was the situation before Dear Diary was born.

After having struggled to live up to everyone’s expectations, having adjusted to all kinds of situations environmentally and also the attitude of people taking me for granted, always keeping the disabled on the side, not including them in the community in any kind of decision making, is what gave birth to Dear Diary.

Down the line after 10 years I am glad that the way people look at me now is different from 10 years ago. Now I am considered part of the society. It wasn’t easy to build a name to keep up to, the pace to keep a smile and keep going, but I have proved my stand. Today I am respected. People want to be associated with me. People want to support me in all that I do purely for humanity and this is a great achievement.

However there is still discrimination where marriage is concerned. People especially in the Asian society have a mindset that a person with disability should not fall in love or have a partner whereas the same disabled person can be part of everything else in the society.

So it makes me wonder why a man or a woman with disability in the Asian society or culture is considered to be not in need of love or to be loved by that special someone…” Nafisa Khanbhai

We have probably seen so many disabled people in our lives; on the streets, in our work places, in our homes and in our communities. As much as they could be outstanding, hardworking, beautiful, strong…there would always be a ‘but’ in the middle of the sentence.

“She is capable and talented to do the job, but she doesn’t have legs…”

“He has outstanding qualifications, but he is deaf…”

“She is beautiful, she would have made a wonderful wife and mother, but…”

The ‘buts’ could go on and on forever and this is because we no longer look at them as normal human beings as what we are. But this is the funny part of life right? Someone ‘normal’ could be so depressed, with so much on their plate, their hearts could be tearing apart, they can barely focus and think straight, yet we still give them the chance to work, to get married, to have a family and a social life, because ‘everyone deserves a chance to prove what they are really capable of.’ Then why can’t we offer the same opportunities to those who are disabled yet still can do what any other normal person can do?

I can’t totally deny that there are some disabled people who can’t do some things because it is simply beyond their power, beyond their abilities and capabilities but there are those who have stood out from the crowd. They are always there but they end up seating on the pavements of the road, begging. Sometimes it is because this is the easiest way out of their troubles but sometimes, they really have no other way except this. And this is because you have stigmatized them; we have.

Have you ever seen the fuss we make when someone gets married or marries a blind girl, or an albino, or a man with no legs, or a lady who is both deaf and dumb? We make it seem like they are aliens, they belong to a world that is close to ours but not exactly the same as ours. Why then don’t we exaggerate the same way when someone marries a totally distorted soul? A soul that is crying out for help? Is it because they are beautiful on the outside or that they are good at covering their pain with a lovely smile?

I am not saying that people with depression issues don’t deserve to be married or be employed or be happy in their lives because anyway, we are all victims of the pain in our hearts. We just endure it differently. But my point is, if we can accept ourselves with all our unseen imperfections and flaws, why then not accept those whose flaws are visible and can be seen?

Mrs Fatema narrates of how once a visitor came home and found Nafisa in a bad state and she quickly told her that maybe someone did some witchcraft or something of the sort to Nafisa. But Nafisa’s mother is a believer that God tests anyone in any way, and this was their test.

The stigma is there everywhere. People believing that disabled people are cursed or victims of witchcraft or a punishment from God etcetera etcetera so however much they may be friends with them or colleagues, there is still some tension in the air, a gap that is always there to differentiate them; ‘the normal people’ to him/her, ‘the disabled’. There is that fine unseen, yet felt line between these two kinds of people and perhaps this line will exist forever.

Go to supermarkets, Government buildings, malls, Company offices, hospitals, schools, how many actually have ‘disabled-friendly’ environments? Are there any wheelchairs, ramps, sign language translators, brail documents? Ask any disabled person how many times they had to cancel their plans because they can’t climb the stairs? Or that there is no one to communicate to with sign language? How many times have you seen a disabled person board a matatu? Have you seen how hectic it is for them? Are the conductors and drivers patient enough to let them board the vehicle and sit comfortably before rushing off? How many schools are there for the disabled? What is the condition of these schools? Most of the times, they are pathetic and sometimes teachers are the same ones who take advantage of the students’ conditions.

Why do we wait until we have become victims ourselves, or until we fall in love with one of them, or when one of our close friends or family members becomes a disabled, is when we decide to think rationally and humanly about them? These people are most often than not, around us or near us all the time. We just don’t see them or even look at them. We don’t try putting ourselves in their shoes. We never think of how that could be you or me someday. We forget that God has never stopped creating us and that we too could become handicapped at any moment in our lives. And I mean, ANY MOMENT. It could even be right now as you read this…

I am not trying to curse you or anyone else. I am trying to remind you that God can twist your story whenever He wills. You just have to be humble to those less advantaged than you. Try helping out whenever you can to those disabled, even if it is just by granting them your true friendship, loyalty and companionship.

I am just trying to tell you that the next time you see a disabled person, treat them like how you would want someone else to treat you if you were wearing the same shoes…

To be continued…stay tuned 🙂

Continuation from ‘Unbroken Wings- chapter 1’: https://lubnah.me.ke/unbroken-wings/

Photo Courtesy: https://angypaints.files.wordpress.com

“My parents have given me tremendous support. They never stopped me at any juncture to pursue whatever I wanted to do. After class eight, I couldn’t go on with secondary education due to my condition but I joined Burhaniya finishing college instead. I did a two years home science course there where I perfected my art of embroidery, crotchet, fabric/glass painting amongst other skills that I learnt,” she says as she looks at her art pieces, longingly, that are still hanged on her bedroom walls, “Unfortunately I stopped doing art when I started venturing into other things in life, but I still love art like I always have.”

Nafisa didn’t stop spreading her wings by learning art; she went on to seeking a job where she first worked at a Celebral Palsy centre situated in Tudor in 1994. She however had to quit because the pay couldn’t fit her needs and also it being a tough job handling the challenged children. She thereafter studied several packages at Aries Data Systems, she got a job at Compucon Ventures Ltd and worked there for two years before the company closed. Not giving up, she went on to work at Tyre and Tread ventures, worked there for a while before moving on to Marajani Communications where the working hours and days were challenging and thus couldn’t stay there any longer too. Her last job was with her father at Hatimi Joinery works Ltd.

Besides all that, she was also a member of the Rotary Club of Mombasa since 1998. The club brings people together for beneficial activities, fellowship and to help the needs of others. Nafisa became part of the Rotaract wing which is the youth wing of Rotary club i.e. below 30 fellows. She was given the responsibility of Director of community service three months after becoming a member, later she became its president in 2000 and 2001. Again in 2009, she joined ‘Inner Wheel club of Mombasa’ which is a group of the wives and female relatives of Rotarians. In this group she served as a president for two years.

“Nafisa used to do wonders at the Rotaract youth wing. She used to come up with great ideas, organize everything, work tirelessly and make things happen. They used to call me her transport manager for I would always be the one to pick her up for meetings and all events. I tell you, Nafisa is the strongest woman I have ever met. She never made me feel her disability or even allow me to pity her at any moment,” Manoj, her long-time friend says.

“My sister has always been doing things that not even us; the normal and healthy beings are doing. While she was still at Rotaract, she once came up with this idea of feeding handicapped children during Christmas. She arranged everything and made packages for the children by the help of other Rotractors. During that Christmas, we fed 1200 children. It was a huge success. It was because of her great ambition and passion that she was sponsored by Rotary International for a tour to Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe,” Hussein, Nafisa’s elder brother narrates.

“What Nafisa has done is prove to me and everyone else that disability is not inability. She physically participates in all events. You know we have so many people who have roads named after them, hospitals, schools yet all they did is give out  large cheques while someone like Nafisa always goes out of her way to do the charity projects. She is resourceful, determined, kind and caring; always has great ideas and makes sure she is present to supervise all her projects. Nafisa works even when it is harmful for her body. She is indeed one of the unsung heroes,” an ex-rotarian says.

In 2006, Nafisa went on to do something that was going to change her life forever. She organized a stage drama by the name ‘Dear Diary’ which was highlighting the challenges of the disabled. The play revolved around Hanifa, who has lived with a physical disability all her life. She is forced out of school at an early age due to her failing health, shattering her dreams of becoming a lawyer. She then meets Zaheer and falls in love with him. But Zaheer did that one devastating thing; he dumps Hanifa for a ‘perfectly created’ lady. The play was sponsored by Nakumatt holdings, directed by Namanje and Godiah, stage managed by Muscat Sayye and produced by Nafisa herself. It was first acted at Little Theatre Club and the play brought a new untouched topic to people’s minds; the hidden feelings of the disabled.

The play won the hearts of many and the start was magical. The play opened with the main character, Nafisa, being wheeled onto the podium to receive an award. But she pauses at the base of the staircase and rejects her guide’s offer to lift her onto the stage. She then read what she calls a speech from her diary:

“I am standing before this staircase of confusion with a task of transforming my thoughts, to a destiny and the access to this wonderful destiny lies on the ability of this wheelchair. I have struggled all my life to make it to the peak, and I am standing at the foot of my dream to receive a star of honour for serving diligently towards a humanity cause. They are giving medals to humanity-generals up there (points to the podium), but the same problem I have fought all my life (pointing at the stairs) is barring me from receiving my priceless trophy.”

The play was staged again thrice at Little theatre club again, then done again twice in 2008 at the same venue while the last two shows were staged in 2009, in Kenya National theatre in Nairobi.

“My aim for Dear Diary is to change the perception of the society of people with disability. And another thing that inspired me to put up my life on stage is that every time I visit the United Kingdom, I get a completely different experience as there are facilities for the physically disabled. I feel that if a quarter of the facilities there were put in place in our country, our life would be better for us.”

In 2011, she formed an initiative with the same name as her play, ‘Dear Diary Initiative”. It is a non-profitable community initiative to advocate for the welfare and rights of the disabled. With that, Nafisa allowed herself to transform from being a sensitive girl with unachieved dreams to a strong, passionate lady making changes.

“Nafisa dedicated her life to Dear Diary. She still does. And without bias I would say, Dear Diary is Nafisa more than it is a group. She is the face of the initiative and she has worked without paying herself any penny from what they are offered. See Dear Diary depends entirely on sponsors and well wishers. Nafisa is not working anywhere else to earn herself any extra penny. Yet still, she would never accept any money for herself from Dear Diary Money. Even the religion allows us that for the collector of charity gets a portion, but Nafisa would never allow that. She does this entirely as charity. She is strong willed and a go-getter,” Mustan, Nafisa’s other brother says.

Without knowing it, Nafisa was inspiring many other disabled people AND normal people. To date DDI projects have been so many and her principle was that, disabled people do not need us to give them food and money and our sympathy. But they need us to help them in ways that can make them stand up for themselves. Be strong enough to venture into the world. Hence, Nafisa’s strategies in DDI was not only providing food but more important things like albino caps, educational text books in brail, reflective jackets, wheelchairs, mosquito nets among many other things. This is precisely what made Nafisa outstanding. She knew exactly what her fellows needed. She is empathetic and looks beyond the corners of the box. She wanted to make a difference and she did. She still does.

“I have known Nafisa since childhood and I was there too when her story was first staged. I was the one who was playing the background music of the play. I have been with her through many phases of her life and have always considered her my sister. From her childhood where she used to like scrabble and keram and hide and seek, to the days we used to meet at her grandparents’ farm in Mariakani during holidays, to the times she would feel low due to loneliness…I can tell you that she is very aggressive, hardworking, with a vision. She never asks for favours from anyone not unless it is entirely above her powers. Otherwise, she is very strong and independent…and this is how she has been able to make DDI something amazing,” Aziz, her other childhood friend says.

On September 2015, Nafisa and her Dear Diary team organized a charity fashion show to raise funds for physically challenged people at Fort Jesus in Mombasa. All the participants were people living with a disability. The event was attended by hundreds of people, including Mombasa County gender and sports executive Mohammad Abbas and director of gender and youth department Esther Ingolo.

“When she first told me about the fashion show I have to admit I wasn’t really sure how it would turn out but it was a great success! I wasn’t surprised though, this is Nafisa. She has always been strong and firm and she never gives up. She is truly a source of inspiration,” Juzer, one of Nafisa’s relatives and close friend says.

“Just at the last moment, some of her colleagues at Dear Diary dropped out of the project. It became a panic moment because it was unexpected. My other brother called me that Nafisa needed us, so we rushed in to help. But as always Nafisa was positive and ensured that the fashion show worked out amazingly as planned,” Hussein recalls.

“The use of the word Outstanding would be undermining Nafisa. She is more than that.  Why? Usually when a person is challenged, they usually are either trying to help themselves or are looking at others to help them but Nafisa is out to help others.  I believe she would have done more of charity work if not impended by her challenges but again I don’t think an abled person would be doing so much she is doing right now. But then again you would only feel the pinch if you wear the shoes.

I also remember when we were in our early adulthood; she joined Leo Club where I was the chairman and would be game for any activity or picnics we would plan. Never once did we have to make any special arrangements for her. Whilst as usual a distance came in-between us till the time she joined the Leo Club. Again I moved to Nairobi and only got back when I joined DDI. For the past 3 years we are in touch almost on weekly basis with the common factor being the charity work.” –Muslim

As such, Nafisa was increasingly creating hope in many other people’s lives. She was restoring faith in humanity in many souls…