This is part of our annual, series, “14 Days, 14 Stories”, about ordinary Pakistanis who are doing extraordinary things.
Life for differently-abled people is much more harder in our society because of a lack of understanding of their lives and a lack of empathy about their experience. There is a strong tendency among the majority of people to feel pity for them even if these differently-abled people aren’t exactly struggling with their circumstances. Just because their way of handling everyday things is different to yours doesn’t mean they’re having trouble.
However, the lack of understanding for their life and the constant sympathizing can make a person feel that there is not much growth or infrastructure for them to live fulfilling lives.
Zahra Abbas was not one to believe in these notions of lack of opportunities and has never been the person who would give up on her dreams or stop believing in her own capabilities
Zahra has a deformity in all four limbs and that disability was bound to make several believe that she would not be able to achieve much in life. But she believes that Allah gives people the strength to deal with their situation and help them be where they want to be in life.
She does believe that it must be extremely difficult for parents to bring up a child like this. It requires a tremendous amount of strength, support, and belief to not let anything come in the way of bringing up their child like any other child in the country.
“I do not even know what it feels like to walk but as a parent it is tough. They have to take me amongst other normal children, they have to bring me up, educate me and most importantly, make me survive in a society where there is so much rejection, where there are lack of facilities, and where there are more problems for girls”, Zahra said in an interview with ARY News.
When her parents took for getting enrolled in a school, many refused because they would have to give her special treatment as compared to other children
Another dilemma of these big schools in Pakistan is that despite having expanded exponentially they refuse to cater to the population which is differently-abled. Neither do they have the staff nor the understanding of how to help them out. Many schools have even installed sensory rooms, which are special rooms to help advance the senses of the differently-abled children, but these rooms do not cater to such children because the schools do not enroll them.
She was finally taken in by Lyceum in Lahore and there began her educational journey. The condition, however, was that she would not receive any special treatment and had to go through the process like any other child would. Little by little, she learned to make use of her body to go through the system. That is when she began to learn to write with her elbows. She would practice again and again to be able to complete her tasks and exams within the same time allotted to everyone.
“I still remember in Grade 3 the teacher walked into the class and all children stood up to greet her while I couldn’t. One of my class fellows turned to me and said why don’t you stand up to greet the teacher. I ran home to my mother that day crying my eyes out pleading with her to never send me to school again. It was later I realized, that maybe, even with their feet they can never reach a stage which I can, with none.”
After completing her matriculation, she was taken in by Kinnaird Lahore. The challenge there was that her classes during the first year were on the third floor
The problem here is that there are no arrangements to help differently-abled people lead a normal life and enjoy the same rights as everyone else. Even things as simple as public transport, public washroom, and changing rooms do not accommodate differently-abled persons.
After her two years at Kinnaird, she enrolled in Punjab University to complete her undergrad and masters degree too. And her journey did not stop there. She wanted to work as well because she believed that she also had the right to lead a normal life and not let her shortcomings define her. Her experience in the job market was the same. People do not understand nor can they comprehend the reality of differently-abled persons. They think that there is a mental health issue involved and that is their only understanding of them.
Zahra then went on to start her own career as a motivational speaker in the corporate sector
She also makes sure that she interacts with the young population of the country who have someone always telling them that they cannot achieve their goals and scare them of what lies outside the four walls of their houses. She wants people to know her story – one of struggle and constant effort – and realize that nothing should be able to stop them.
And this is not her stop. She still dreams big and works towards fulfilling her dreams. She does not let anyone tell her that she cannot be the president of the country because it is only her who set the goals and their limitations too. This is precisely what she wants each child in this country to learn because the world is their playground and no one should be able to tell them what they can and cannot do.
For more stories from our series about extraordinary Pakistanis check out “14 Days, 14 Stories”.
cover image via arynews.tv