Assumpta Khalil, is the Public Relations Officer, Network of Women with Disabilities (NWD), Lagos State Chapter.
She is a right hand amputee, who acquired a disability when she was 23 years old after she was involved in a ghastly motor accident.
Recently ipledge2nigeria.net Lagos correspondent caught up with her during a walk and presentation of the charter of demand for women with disability in Surulere area of Lagos.
In this interview, Assumpta Khalil shared how living with a disability has impacted her life, how faced discrimination in her family, survived an abusive marriage and became an advocate for women with disability.
I am a person with a physical disability. I am a right hand, Amputee. I wasn’t born this way, I acquired the disability in the year 2002 as a result of a car accident when I was 23 years old.
And the only way for me to survive was for my hand to be amputated. I could remember when the doctors told me then that, they were going to amputate my hand, for me that was the first time I understood the meaning of the word.
It was not something that I came to terms with immediately. My family members were like my hand should not be amputated but thank God for my doctors that were able to counsel me and gave me reasons why I had to opt for amputation because that was the only way I could have survived the level of injury I acquired in that accident.
How was it, and how long did it take you to accept this new reality?
So accepting my reality wasn’t funny. Life after amputation was one hell of an experience because I was afraid to face the reality, that this is who I am now. I remember those times I don’t go out. I will be stuck at home. I was very young when it happened.
My life was just starting when I had the accident. I had just completed my National diploma, where I studied mass communication. I was preparing for my one-year internship when it happened.
So it wasn’t easy for me to accept my reality, for almost a year, I was home, It was terrible because I was right handed I was just dependent on my mother. She will bathe me, and brush my teeth.
She did everything for me it was that bad because self-acceptance is one thing I was coming to terms with and that took me about five years to accept my reality.
How long did you leave in denial?
So for five years, I was living in denial and believed that I couldn’t amount to anything. You can imagine what it means to tell yourself that it is over. It still took me to make positive affirmations that it wasn’t over yet and that I can make it.
When I eventually started going out, the pity party was so devastating and will make me weep for days. The first time I entered a vehicle after the accident was very traumatic, I was jittering because it brought back flashes of the accident. I had panic attacks. It was something I lived with for years.
How did you survive a violent marriage?
It was in that vulnerable state I got romantically involved with a young man who professed love and showed interest in me. I was like at this point in my life in this condition, some still love me. I didn’t look before I leapt into the relationship. We dated for six months and got married and then I saw the other side of life. I started experiencing domestic violence.
When the beating became an everyday norm coupled with stigma, and violence when I couldn’t endure it anymore, I ran for my dear life with the help of my neighbours. My family were against my leaving an abusive marriage, they said I should manage, that they used to manage marriage.
I realised I was in hell, and dying gradually. I a point I realised that if I didn’t walk out of the marriage alive, I will walk out of it dead.
It got to a time my neighbours could not intervene, they got used to the fact that we were always fighting. At one point, one of our neighbours asked if I don’t have parents.
Would you believe was I eventually returned home to my parents, my mother said I should return to my marriage it was like from a frying pan to fire for me. I was pregnant with my second child then.
It was so pathetic and terrible, I was in that marriage for two years and I had two kids.
What about your family how did they react?
My mummy, and family members rejected me. They said I must stay back in the abusive marriage. I told myself, that whatsoever it was going to cost me to have my peace back, I was not going to trade it for anything. I didn’t mind sleeping on the streets.
After my mom drove me out, I went to live with a coursemate of mine, she accommodated me. I was seven months pregnant then, and I had not attended antenatal although I was taking routine drugs.
A week before I delivered my family came to my course mate place to take me back home.
What Was The Turning Point For You?
That was when I decided that I was going to make something out of my life. A year after I gave birth, I began to search for organisations working with persons living with disability. I search online and reached out to organisations.
They counselled me, they helped me build my capacity and skills. they counselled me.
Since 2012, I have been able to build capacity over the years and have been using my story to inspire other women. I am into advocacy, I am doing advocacy because I am passionate about it. No woman should go through what I went through.
For your information, I faced discrimination first from my family, my immediate before I got married.
Today, I am an entrepreneur with two daughters.
What percentage of persons living with disability do you think suffer domestic and sexual violence and why?
To be on the safe side, I would say, 50% of women with disability have experienced one form of violence either through their family or their spouse.
Domestic Violence is common in the disability community. Who do I blame? I blame our culture, cultural barriers, societial barriers, religious barriers, and the family. When you are in a country where you are not fully integrated, what do expect? Or in a family where you are labelled a second-class citizen because you are a woman. The situation gets complicated When you are now a woman with a disability that is like fourth class.
Unfortunately, most people don’t believe that women with a disability can be productive in society.
We have women with a disability that are doing great, some of us are graduates, some of us have great skills, and some of us are doing wonderfully well in business. I will say disability is a blessing to me. I get a recommendation, to go and meet Assumpta, as she has a similar experience.
What is the major challenge of living with disability in a society like ours,?
I am a person with disability I don’t need to explain to anybody that I am a person with a disability before you see that I am a person with a disability and do the needful.
On Election Day one of the INEC presiding officials asked me to queue and I was like Ma’am I am a person with a disability, and I am entitled to priority she said madam you are not a disabled person. she said I don’t look like them. I asked her what her definition of disability is.
Most people have the notion that a person with a disability has to be dirty. That is her mindset and it is not only her. Most Nigerians believe, that disabled people need to wear rags clothes and look haggard.
I have gotten that type of reaction from over ten different people. they expect disabled people to wear rags clothes.
The public needs to be aware that persons with disability are humans and should not be treated less. I don’t have to go on the street looking haggard before you recognise that I am disabled and allocate my priorities to me.
Because I am not using crutches or wheelchairs I am not a person with a disability. I have two legs, but I don’t have two hands.
Finally, what is the way out,?
We need to continue to build awareness, we need the media, especially social media. they need to be educated on how to report and write stories on people with disabilities. disabilities vary and our needs vary. persons with disability have a right to qualitative life.
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