This story you are about to read is a tale of two young girls from far ends of Nigeria who imparted each other’s lives in ways neither of them thought possible and yes it is all true.
Sarah, a friend of mine, was born into the family of Ossai on the 2nd day of March 1989. She was your typical girl next door, grew up like the average Nigerian child, and attended a primary school in her local community in Delta state in Nigeria. At the age of 10, she lost her father to a terminal illness. Caring and providing for the family posed a problem for her mother, as she had 4 other children in her care. Other members of the family did not make it any easier for Mrs. Ossai. Sarah was advised by her friends to come to the city [Lagos, Nigeria]; and this was where we first met.
My story on the other hand was a little different. Due to an illness named meningitis; I became visually impaired at the age of 10. I was completely blind for over 6 months. At this time, I was discriminated against, and basically isolated by my parents and people I thought loved me. My father regarded me as an ‘EVIL CHILD’, and also stating that he was so confused and all he did was transfer his aggression on me, my mother, who was busy with her final exams in a 2nd degree program, my elder sister, who was also writing her secondary school certificate exam, and two of my other siblings Jane (then 4 years old) and Joy who was only few months old.
Months passed since I fell ill and I was still on the hospital bed. All hope was lost and all I could do was to believe in God and in myself. I remember a conversation I had with my mom:
ME: mom when am i resuming? I need to prepare for my junior WAEC exams.
MOM: don’t you know you are blind and would never see again?
I guess she lost faith in God and in any probability that I might get better. At the time though, I had but the slightest understanding on what being blind implied. I felt like one could only be blind from birth or through heredity.
After a while, glory to God I started to see faintly, I didn’t know how it was going to work, all I knew was that I had to get back to school one way or the other. Of course it was a huge problem convincing my father that I was ready to return to school, as he was of the opinion that I’d lost my sight completely, I was that one child that was completely written off by him because of my predicament. I remember him saying “I have told you several times, you can’t go back to that school because my reputation is involved and you can only go back when you can see, fully!” I was heartbroken but I did not lose faith, I kept pushing until we came to a fair understanding, I dare say. He agreed to my returning to school only on the condition that if I did not cope in school after a week, I was going to stay back at home till whenever I could see properly. My school principal who was in the know of the agreement I had with my father, called me to his office a couple of days after I resumed and asked me if i was coping. Although I was not, seeing as I had difficulties recognizing my classmates or even seeing anything that was written on the white board, there was no way I could be so transparent with him; so I left him with the impression that I was fine. I remembered being one of the best in mathematics before the sickness, but now, I could barely cope. Intimidation and low self-esteem were my whole life. Issues at home didn’t help either. With the grace and mercies of God, and intense hard work, I finally graduated from secondary school in the year 2009.
My parents were ignorant of what it took to raise a child with my condition, so I was on the losing end. In spite of this disadvantage I moved on to apply for the Unified Examination for Entrance into the university (JAMB), University of Lagos to be precise. It proved difficult because I was categorized as blind and all the questions were in Braille. There was no chance, because I didn’t know anything about Braille; I mean I’d never attended any blind school; this pushed me after my first try though to learn Braille. After a second attempt of writing JAMB, I was offered an admission in the department of sociology in University Of Lagos, UNILAG. My course of study encouraged the hunger for critically analyzing the problems of the society which included the issues visual impaired persons have suffered over years past and present.
Now back to Sarah, she had relocated with her mother and siblings to our area in Lagos. Her mother began selling herbal drugs and alcohol to make ends meet. Years later, Sarah developed cataract on her left eye, which eventually infected the other eye as a result of poor funding and gradually she lost her sight completely. Time went by, she lost faith and frustration sets in, and she started planning to return to the village. I had to interfere. I met with her mother and asked her questions like: did she believe that her daughter could still achieve more than her peers? Even for me, I knew those questions were a test of faith. I met with Sarah a little later and asked her some of the same questions. I also advised her about believing in herself and not giving up on a better life in spite of her disability. I told her my story, and eventually, after a long time she had hope, faith, something strong enough to keep going. She immediately joined a rehab center, I did not hear from her for a while and months later when she came back, I was just too proud to say the least; she moved around with better ease, she operated her phone with such grace; she was basically living life independently. She is currently a topnotch athlete in the sprint sports for the blind in her state. She has received scholarships from different organizations in the country and has also contributed in the greatest measure imparted in the financial situation of her family.
In my school as at the time I first resumed lectures; visual impaired students had a great difficulty using the library unlike ‘normal students’. I then spoke about this to someone I can actually regard as a mentor, Dr. Adebayo, he encouraged me to write a proposal to the university board; it became somewhat of a mini project of mine. Although it took quite some time, I can boldly say that the electronic library is currently under construction, desktop and laptops have been provided by the school authority with JAWS (Job Access With Speech) installed in these devices making it a whole lot easier for special students in school to also enjoy the luxury of the library.
With every opportunity I get, I try to let people understand that being visually impaired is not a disease, that there is ability in every disability. One time in class, we were assigned to choose any topic to work on for our term paper, I choose: The influence of family background on the socialization process of the visual impaired student on campus. Months after my presentation, my course mates kept telling how touched and inspired they were, one in particular told me how happy she was about a new friend she made who was blind, how much she learns from her and how she is becoming a better person every single day. To some people all this might not be much of a change in the society but in my little way I have contributed and I am still striving. I do not intend to stop till I have reached people across the world because I know what it feels like to have absolutely no one who has faith in you and it is a terrible feeling, to say the least, I would never wish that luck on any one.
I am Ngozi Ukpai-Okoro and I am an agent of socio change.