A brief history of your life till date
My name is Olaolu Jimmy Asuni. I was born in Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria. My mother was a school proprietress, principal and a teacher at heart. My father was an accountant. I have three younger siblings, who are all great and wonderful.
I was born with a condition called cerebral palsy. This affected my speech (the way I talked) and my fine motor skills (small movements such as picking up small things and holding a spoon. To do this function, I would require the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue). It made my developmental progress slower than I believe it would otherwise have been. However, it did not stop me from achieving my goals in life.
I remember my first day at primary school; I cried because children were calling me names. The first day at secondary school was the same; it was tough. I knew I had to block out the negative things people said about me and find a way to be happy and guard my heart otherwise, I stood no chance in life.
My parents, and particularly my late father, helped me a lot. He didn’t treat me like a child with a disability rather he brought me up like a child who could achieve whatever he wanted to.
When I was much younger, rehabilitation therapy wasn’t readily accessible in Nigeria but my father ensured that I had access to privately-funded speech and physiotherapists to support my developmental progress. When I turned fifteen, I lost my dad, and this was tough on all of us. He was my rock, he taught me everything I knew and repeatedly said to me, “Never give up on what you want.” This saying kept me going through very many challenging times in my life.
When did you notice that you were different from other kids?
While growing up, I was not given any special treatment. I was given the same treatment and upbringing like my siblings. If I did something wrong, I got punished.
I would never forget the day I found out that I was different from others. I think I was just around eight years old. It was a sunny day and we travelled from Lagos to Ibadan, which is another vibrant city in Nigeria, to visit my uncle. On that fateful day, there was a football match between both cities- the Lagos boys (consisting of myself, my junior brother and my cousin) versus the Ibadan boys. I can’t really remember what the scores were, but I believe my team won. As we played, my Aunty Ninon recorded the event with a video camera. Afterwards, I watched what was recorded. As I watched the video recording, I noticed that I was different from everyone else. From the way I stood, the way I moved and ran I was like a sore thumb; I stood out from the other boys. I realised that the way I spoke sounded different from other kids in the video. That, was a defining moment in my life. Up until then, I did not know I was different from anyone else.
Were you ever jealous of your siblings or friends?
Jealousy is bound to happen at some point in everyone’s life. You get jealous of friends who you think have better toys than you or have all the girls or can get the girls just by talking to them, so it was bound to happen, but I thank God for my mother. She always told me to be content with all I have. She constantly repeated that to me as a child, so I grew up with that in mind. Anytime I felt a sense of jealousy crippling in and it did a few times, I remembered my mother’s words telling me to be content. I guess that is one of the best advice you can give to anyone who has issues with jealousy. Always be content with what you have. This doesn’t stop you from dreaming and working hard, thinking smart and acting smart.
Growing up with CP, what was your biggest challenge?
I had many challenges, but I guess the one that stood out for me, was finishing my degree in Business Management. It took a lot out of me to finish that degree. It was not easy to meet tight deadlines for essays as well as to prepare for exams at the same time. I found it a bit difficult but I had excellent lecturers, who also contributed to my success.
I can still remember my graduation day when my name was called out, the sense of achievement overwhelmed me and my thoughts screamed ‘Yes!! I made it!’
Currently, you work in a Bank, and you run a cause for children living with disabilities in Nigeria and London. How do you combine these roles?
I work with Lloyds Banking Group in the UK as a project assistant; I enjoy what I do with the bank. As a project assistant I am involved in a lot of activities that enables the project run smoothly. It was difficult at first and it took me a while to understand the processes. I still find it a bit difficult to understand some of the processes but I have a very understanding team leader. She takes her time to explain things to me. I am very grateful for the support.
Asides from my bank work, I created a niche for myself in disability advocacy and public speaking. I visit different colleges and different disabled homes giving speeches and encouraging people who have disabilities and those without, on maximising their potential.
I have also given talks in Warri, Nigeria, in small disabled homes. I love to motivate others by telling them about some of my life experiences and how I overcame my challenges. At the end of my speech, I usually end with this statement, ‘Never judge a book by its cover, read the content of the book, in every disability, lies an ability.’
Can you talk a little about your projects for special needs children?
I am currently working on a project for people with disability in the UK. I have given speeches in charities such as Action for kids, Scope, Mencap, and Lewisham disability collations. I believe people with disability are not given enough opportunities to show what they can achieve. Hence my reason to be a disability advocate.
I joined various initiatives to make sure that people with disability are not just seen but heard. I am working on a few things for people with disability, which I think will throw more light on the topic.
What is your advice for mothers with children with disabilities?
Never treat them differently from the rest. Always be kind and make a conscious effort to understand them, be firm with them but don’t be harsh. Above all, always show and give them love. Love will help them grow.