By Fred Ouma, Development Communications Coordinator, World Vision Uganda
Editor’s note: Ashraf is one of 1096 children who have received wheelchairs since 2015 from World Vision with support from Wheelchairs for Kids to ease their movement. World Vision works with Motivational Africa, a local partner, to expertly assemble the wheelchairs according to requirements of the individual recipients. Motivational Africa also provides free spares and repairs.
My name is Ashraf, aged 15. I was born with a physical disability. I never enjoyed or played games like other children and that made me sad.
“My mother did everything for me within her limits. She visited a number of health facilities but she never got any solution. 'He might make it into a wheelchair,' were the doctor’s carefully chosen words. 'But he will probably just lie in bed.' My mother always tells me that those words are as sharply etched now as they were 15 years ago.
“No one expected her to bring me home. But she did. As a protest, my father abandoned her and married another woman. Like a drowning man who would clutch at a straw, she took me to a traditional healer near our village, but to no avail. She felt a complete failure as a mother. She had made an internal promise that she would protect me, and now she felt utterly unable to cope. For a mother without any income, the burden was overbearing as the future looked faint.
“Without the support of my father, she eventually exhausted all possible options. She got convinced I would grow up crippled – never to stand or walk. A piece of furniture but a breathing one! She would have to do for me literally everything: carry me everywhere, bathe me, make the bed for me, and wash my hands after the toilet, etc. In fact, without my mother’s help, I would have fallen in the toilet many times.
Thinking of the tiresome days, sometimes I thought I should have died rather than let my mother suffer this way. But she is a mother – she couldn’t allow that to happen.
"She thought of me as a seed to be nurtured. My mother knows what I feel, what I think, what I want to do. She is more determined to do everything humanly possible to raise me into the best person I can ever be. She is my 'shero' (hero) for life.
“I started school at age eight instead of the average of six. Although the school was not far from home, it would take me more than an hour to reach, while my friends from the neighbourhood took only 10 minutes. My friends couldn’t move with me because I was ‘too slow’. For a 10-minute journey for an average walking person, I always stopped three or four times to pick a breath. Even though the journey was tiresome for me, I was never giving up. My mother always tells me that if I am to transform my life, I have to love my studies. With these words always ringing in my mind, I kept crawling every day from Monday to Friday. I do love school and I am among the best performing students in my class. I have a lot of friends at school who support and encourage me every day. My teachers also love me because I am not only bright in class but very disciplined too.
In 2017, I experienced a real turning point in my life. I received a wheelchair from World Vision that was specially made to my measurements and needs by Motivation Africa.
"You should have seen the happiness in my voice. It was awesome! I remember I had just completed Primary Leaving Examinations and now expected to join a secondary school, located10km away from home. God had answered my prayer, finally.
“At the start of my secondary education, I used to commute from home to school every day. After a few weeks, the school administration allowed me to become a boarder – a resident student – on compassionate ground. They also made a lot of physical changes around the school to make it disability-friendly. For instance, I had a serious challenge of using the toilet but this was sorted out, almost immediately. I now have a special latrine all to myself. I don’t share it with anybody else. Most classroom blocks, including a library block, have been made accessible by a wheelchair. Life is good. And if you asked me, life is sweeter with this wheelchair. It is a perfect gift for me direct from heaven.
“Imagine when you can’t get out of the house because you can’t stand up or walk. It would feel as though you live on a deserted island, isolated and alone. It’s terrible. And that is my real-life experience before I got a wheelchair.
I am grateful to World Vision for reaching out to the most vulnerable like me. I now have legs.
"Strong legs at that! I may not jump, run or do everything my peers do, but one thing is clear: I have no problem to move around. My wheelchair replaces my dysfunctional legs. I rely on it 100% for my daily mobility. There is no replacement for my wheelchair. Time to pee? Not without my wheelchair. Time for meals? Not without my wheelchair. Time to go to class? Not without my wheelchair. Plans to explore the world? Not without my wheelchair. Have a life? Not without my wheelchair. As far as I am concerned, my wheelchair is my greatest accessory. It is part of me for life.
“But that doesn’t mean life is as it should be. Nothing like it. But at least with my wheelchair, I can go to class. I can go anywhere on my own. There is even the occasional advantage of being in a wheelchair. For instance, I am never without somewhere to sit. I am always amused when someone says 'take a seat', realises what they have said and starts to go 'Umm, what I meant was…' One day I arrived at a function to find all the seats were taken. My friend fetched two chairs. I asked him who was the second one was for and he said: 'It’s for you – I forgot you’re in a wheelchair.' What a compliment. People who see the person beyond the chair are to be treasured.
“I have a dream to be a medical doctor to help children who are like me. I feel it is a profession I can do well with the kind of disability I have. It doesn’t require me to carry any weight or ascend any height; just asking a colleague for a few tools and I do my work.
“I also aspire to become a motivational speaker to inspire people before I expire.”