My sunshine, Oluwalonimi is five years old today

My sunshine, Oluwalonimi is five years old today; she has come a long way and I am grateful.

It has been five years of learning and re-learning. Five years of healing and forgiving. It has not been easy but God has been faithful. I have learnt to be happy in spite of my challenges because I realized that happiness is a decision for each of us to make. I have learnt to take baby steps even when I feel tired of everything. I have learnt to trust God at the darkest moments. I have allowed God to birth a ministry out of my pain; to reach out to other mothers who need encouragement and a shoulder to lean on.

Oluwalonimi (God owns me) Oreoluwa (Gift from God)…you came into our lives five years ago and you have succeeded in making us better parents. From your early days in the incubator at the hospital up till today, I have watched your determination to live. I have seen your strength to overcome life’s challenges. You have taught me to see miracles in things that I would normally have taken for granted. You have taught me about faith and believing, and believing. You have taught me not to give up. Without a doubt in my mind, I know that God makes all things beautiful in its time. I celebrate you my dear baby.

Mums who have children developing normally often say they do not know what to say to children (or their parents) who have disability. Some say they feel awkward being around children with disabilities. My simply answer is, ‘just say hi with a smile.’

Be nice to children (and their parents) who have disability, let us not demonise them as our society has done for many generations.

Neurodevelopmental disorder is a medical condition and it is not contagious. If you feel burdened, pray for them. If you want to go the extra mile, learn about the disability and educate others.

To the mum who has a child living with a medical condition or a disability and you feel your life doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s okay to cry but… encourage yourself in the Lord for there lies your hope. Take tiny steps, ask God for daily grace and strength to carry on. He will come through for you just like He did for me.

House of Reps honour crippled beggar turned lawyer, OAU record-breaker

Abdulsalam Kamaldeen, a physically challenged one-time Lagos beggar, has been honoured by the house of representatives for his rare academic feat.

38-year-old Kamaldeen overcame his physical challenge as a crippled beggar to graduate as a lawyer.

Femi Gbajabiamila, leader of the House, on Tuesday called for the recognition of Kamaldeen alongside Aarinola Olaiya during a plenary session in Abuja.

24-year-old Olaiya became the first medical student to graduate with distinction in surgery at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, since 1989.

The duo received a standing ovation from the lawmakers including Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the house.

Gbajabiamila spoke about the students’ achievement describing them as “Nigerians of humble background who fought all odds to achieve greatness”.

He said: “Kamaldeen, 38, lost his two legs to polio at the tender age of three; lost his mother at the age of four; and started primary school at eight. He started street begging to raise money to buy school uniforms, books and to feed.

“Kamaldeen begged for alms from primary through secondary schools; known on the streets of Lagos as a beggar and slept under the Idumota Bridge for several years before saving money he gathered from commuters to rent a room.

“From street begging, he bought a GCE form in 2002; passed his GCE and JAMB examinations and was subsequently admitted to study Political Science at the University of Lagos.

 

“He sat for another WAEC and JAMB examinations while preparing for the completion of his first degree in Political Science. In his determination to become a lawyer, Kamaldeen gained admission to study Law at the University of Lagos in 2010. He went to the Nigerian Law School in 2015 and was called to the Nigerian Bar on 30 November 2016.

“His story is amazing, sad, as it is also inspiring. Going through Law School for able-bodied men is tough, let alone for a cripple. Despite the circumstances of his life, he chose to work hard to make a name for himself.

“He did not attempt to go into crime or opt to cross the Mediterranean in the hope to go to Europe.”

Gbajabiamila also commended Olaiya whose successful feat hasn’t been achieved in OAU for over 28 years.

He said: “Miss Aarinola Olaiya, 24, was admitted into the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, to study Medicine and Surgery in 2011; she scored an excellent Cumulative Grade Point (CGPA) of 4.74 in her first year.

“Subsequently, in her second through sixth year, scored: Distinctions in Anatomy, Medical Biochemistry and Physiology (200 Level); Distinctions in Medical Biochemistry and Pharmacology (300L); Distinctions in Pathology and Pharmacology (400L); Distinctions in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Mental Health and Dermatology (500L); and Distinction in Surgery (600L).

“The achievement was elusive for a period of 28 years in OAU/Nigerian medicine and community health.”

Kamaldeen expressed gratitude saying disability shouldn’t be a hindrance to success.

“The reality of life is that life itself is a competition. No matter your condition, you must compete and compete favourably,” he said.

Source: https://www.today.ng/news/nigeria/39892/house-reps-honour-crippled-beggar-turned-lawyer-oau-record-breaker

Beyond My Limitations…Jimmy Asuni

 

 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.

 

A Mother’s Love and Her Daughter’s Strength

My name is Margaret, I am Yewande’s mum. My daughter was born 27 weeks old. Eleven weeks premature. The hospital did not discover immediately that there was anything wrong with her. The first thing that I noticed was that her legs were stiff after six weeks when we left the hospital.
The Neonatal consultant called me and asked me to come over to the hospital. When I got there, he told me that my daughter had a brain hemorrhage and she might not be able to see or walk. I was distraught; I was completely devastated. She was my first and only child.

The Neonatal doctor asked me to take my daughter to my community service provider where a physiotherapist would be appointed to conduct therapy sessions with her.
I was in shock; I kept crying for days. Then the numerous hospital appointments began, from one medical office to the other. It was tiring and emotional draining.
I was broken and I wanted to know why this could happen to my baby. I cried a lot; I stopped going to church, I stopped believing.
At a point I tried so many things; different therapies. We went from England to The United States to Poland and Hungary looking for solution to my daughter’s medical condition.

Then after a while I realized I had to go back to God. I learnt to trust him again, I learnt to submit to his will. Through the years, my hope in Christ gave me the courage to go on. Yes, it was not easy. I learnt to take it one day at a time. My daughter is a college graduate today and I am proud of what she has achieved. I often encourage her to have hope for a great life in spite of her disability. I tell her stories of people with challenges who lived their dreams.
My admonition to other mothers:
It is not an easy journey but don’t give up. I realized that no matter the kind of therapy we did, there was no magic cure, everything we achieved came through consistency. You must be ready to stick to therapy consistently to see any form of improvement.

Yewande’s story
My name is Yewande Omoniyi, I am 26 years old. I am a graduate who is currently volunteering with a Disabled people’s organisation in the UK. I was born prematurely, 11 weeks early. I experienced lack of oxygen to my brain during birth. This caused my Cerebral Palsy. (CP)
CP is a condition that affects muscle control and movement that is caused by a brain injury. The injury occurs before birth, during birth, or after birth. There are 3 types of CP, and even if two people have the same type of CP it will affect them in different ways. Some people have more than one type of CP. CP can also affect speech, motor skills, sight, and hearing. People with CP can also have conditions like epilepsy, and experience behavioural problems or learning difficulties.

I first realised I was a Disabled person at the age of around 3 or 4. Children would come up to me and ask if I had a broken leg, and why I couldn’t walk. They also always used to ask why I used a buggy and a walker, and if they could push it. I started school at age 5. This is the age that we start school in the UK.

Growing up as a Disabled person definitely had its challenges. I would say that I missed out being able to build genuine friendships with non-disabled children and young people. In my opinion, this was due to non-disabled people perceiving me and disabled people in general as “different” in a negative way and not like them.

Throughout my life my mum ensured that she did everything in her power to help me “overcome” my Cerebral Palsy. Making sure I had access to different therapies to aid my development, fighting for me all the time so I had access to the right education, health, and care. However, one of the biggest things she did was ensuring that I accepted myself and my identity as a disabled person. That was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome, being comfortable and happy within myself. She made me see I could still reach my achievements and goals, and I can live life and be happy within myself. I had to learn that being different from others is not a bad thing, it is the ignorance of other people towards me that make things more difficult.
I faced a lot of ignorance during my school days, even at university level. However, it took me a long time to realise that it was nothing to do with what I had done, it was to do with their lack of knowledge and understanding about Disabled people. However, it is still very hurtful. I also experienced bullying in my first year of secondary school.

I believe that education should be fully inclusive, no matter a child’s ability or how severe their condition is. For me all Disabled children should be educated alongside non-disabled children. Even though I attended a mainstream school it was challenging. Especially when it came to forming friendships and not receiving certain academic support. However, I believe that is due to schools not working on things like having an inclusive attitude and non- disabled children not being taught about disability, equality and the Social Model of Disability from an early age.
Also, education needs to look at the strengths of the disabled person, instead of what they cannot do. I believe that if these things were embedded into the codes or philosophy of schools, mainstream schooling would be much more a positive experience for disabled children and young people.
Even though there were challenges in mainstream, I believe that it helped me with future life chances. For example, in mainstream school I was able to gain qualifications that I can use to apply for work. It also prepared me for how the “real world” works. I believe it is also a foundation for a disabled person to be able experience independent living.

In my view, special schools segregate disabled children and young disabled people from their non-disabled peers and makes Disabled people seem like “the other” and as a result it increases inequality. However, I do completely understand that parents can feel their child or young person has been let down by mainstream schooling and feel that they have no choice but to put their child in a special school. Also, in many countries I understand that mainstream schools refuse to educate disabled children, and the only choice is a special school or special unit, or in many cases no school at all.

My advice for parents of children and young people who are disabled and have special needs, is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Medical professionals, experts, and even family and friend may paint a bleak picture, and you might feel like all hope is lost. You will most likely find that the biggest barriers that your child faces will come from society itself and not from their condition. You will face a lot of ignorance from non-disabled people. The fight against this is exhausting and there will be so many times you want to give up but you must persevere. Don’t hide your child away. Your child can live a full life, you just have to try and adapt to the challenges that are coming your way. You and your child are going to have to approach things in a different way, but this is not a bad thing. Focus on their strengths and their gifts, not always about the things that they cannot do. Your child is unique in their own way and a blessing from God. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different, they can still achieve their goals and dreams.

Tobiloba Ajayi – A Story Of Courage & Determination.

Tobiloba Ajayi is a Nigerian female writer living with Cerebral Palsy. She is a lawyer and advocate for people living with disabilities. She started her early education at the age of three. However, due to the complications of the condition, she did not start walking until the age of 12. She completed her primary, secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria. She obtained a master’s degree in International Law from University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. Her works include three published books namely Inspirations, Observe to do and Whos with me. She contributed to Nigeria Vision 2020 on disabilities matters. She was part of the team that drafted “the Lagos State disability Law”. She had worked at Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Center (MAARDEC) and she currently works at Benola Cerebral Palsy Initiatives. She is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows.

  • Can you tell us what your parents told you caused your disability?

My parents told me that my disability was caused by lack of oxygen to my brain at birth. I was born pre term and the hospital wasn’t ready.

  • Do you think it could have been avoided?

I am not sure, based on my current knowledge that it could have been avoided

  • In this part of the world people usually say that disabled children are a form of punishment to their parents. What do you think?

I think that is a wrong way to think. A disabled child presents a challenge, but a child is never a punishment.

  • When did you realize you were different from other kids?

I think I was about 5 years of age

  • Can you tell us a bit about growing up with a disability

It was interesting. I dealt with funny questions and discrimination and I learnt to find my own way around doing things.

  • You once told me that your parents were instrumental to the person you have become today. Do you mind to expatiate on that?

My parents decided early that they were going to raise me as if I did not have a disability. My dad insisted that I was not broken in any way, I was just plastic. This shaped my world view and how I viewed myself and my disability.

  • From your profile, you didn’t start walking until you were 12 years? Wow! How did you feel?

I started school without independent seating at 3 and I sat independently at about age 6 or 7. I walked independently at the age of 12 in JSS2. I felt quite liberated.

  • You also mentioned earlier that you attended a boarding secondary school. How did you cope?

The ‘how did you cope’ question goes back to how my parents raised me. Since they had decided early that I was going to be raised like my neuro typical siblings, and they had all gone to boarding school, I already sort of knew I was going too.

Mentally, my family prepared me for boarding school. My older siblings gave me stories of their own experiences and tips and tricks. I was already used to doing chores from home so that was not a problem.

I got to school and like I grew up being told to do, I found my own solutions and developed my own unique coping strategies.

  • From your profile, you have two law degrees. One from a Nigerian University and another from a University from UK? How did you cope?

University was a follow up to secondary school; I had already learned how to live independently away from home. I knew how to live on a budget, I outsourced some of the things I couldn’t do. I was not afraid to ask for help. I created for myself, a system that worked for me.

  • Now this is mind blowing. You attended orientation camp at the National Youth Service and you were posted to Enugu State. What gave you the courage to go? Where you not scared?

Hmm, I think I was more excited than I was scared. I had already gone to university outside of Lagos where my parents live. For me, this was going to be my chance to prove to myself  that I could live independently without physical help from home and frequent daddy visiting days.

It was hard, but I pulled it off and I loved it.

  • In 2016 you were selected as one of the one hundred youth leaders from Nigeria to attend the Mandela Washington Fellows in The United States of America. How did you feel?

I was selected as one of the 100 Mandela Washington Fellows from Nigeria and 1000 fellows from Africa who eventually, after a six week academic training in the United States, met president Obama.

It was great to be selected, especially as the selection process was rigorous and merit based.

It reinforced for me that what I have chosen to do in Disability Management Advocacy has merit and it is not just in my head.

  • Recently you released a new book titled, Observe to do. This makes it your third book. Can you briefly tell us about it?

Observe to do started as my personal journal where I documented the things God was teaching me as I spent time with Him. In 2015 January, I heard God clearly; He told me to put the journal writings together in a book and allow others to be blessed with the knowledge. I did and that is why we have the book out today

  • Despite your physical disabilities you have become an inspiration to many youths. What motivates you?

Two things I think are my biggest motivators:

Losing my mother at 15 taught me in practical terms, the brevity of life and how each day is a gift that should be maximized to the benefit of others as much as you can.

The other thing is the realization that purpose is sometimes found on the other side of pain, and that God never wastes an experience.

There’s no way I would let all my experiences living with Cerebral Palsy in an interesting country like Nigeria go to waste

  • What is your advice to young people with disabilities?

If you are a young person living with a disability, I hope you have people around you who believe in your inherent abilities irrespective of your disabilities. If you don’t, find ways to motivate yourself to succeed beyond expectations. Become creative with solutions that work for you.

Choose the life you want. Have a picture of your future and start building towards that picture.

  • What would you like to say to parents with children with disabilities?

For parents raising children with disabilities, my message remains the same. Please see your child as a child, not just a diagnosis. Get them the best care you can afford, yes, but nothing beats pure love in raising a well adjusted child.

Focus on your child’s abilities, give your child an education, please. Find a way to ensure your child has an education, use empowering language around your child and watch him/her thrive and bloom.

Pastor Ololade Adamolekun- Jesus Kids Home for the Disabled

Pastor Ololade Adamolekun is a social worker; she is the founder of Jesus kids Home for the Disabled as well as JKs Autism Centre which is located in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.

 

  • What prompted you to start a home for children with special needs?

Starting a home for children with special needs wasn’t planned but I would say that it was a call from God. It all started in May 2010; I used to feed children with disabilities, play with them, pray for them and take them to the University College Hospital Ibadan for treatments when necessary. It was then I discovered they needed series of therapies and medical treatment.

 

  • You once told me that the school you started for children with special needs was not properly funded because parents did not want to spend money on their disabled children and in contrast the orphanage you started was filled up to capacity with children with disabilities. Can you please expatiate on this?

I started with an orphanage and parents would come and thereafter, abandon their children at our facility. It got to a point I reported this at the Child Protection Network. I was advised to start a day-care centre where parents will have to pay for the therapies needed. That was why I started JKS Autism Centre. It was established to give the required therapies to these children.

 

  • What do you think is the main reason mothers abandon their disabled children?

Mothers abandon their disabled kids because of several reasons. Many people consider these children to be evil spirits. Others believe they symbolize bad luck or their medical condition may be contagious.

When couples do not understand how to manage this situation properly, it usually results to problems in the home.

Some parents consider seeking medical intervention a waste of time. Some that start out seeking help usually expect an overnight recovery and when this doesn’t happen they give up hope and leave.

 

  • What has been your challenge so far in running Jesus Kids?

The major challenge we face is our raising funds to run the orphanage. The children’s therapies, surgeries and mobility aids cost a lot of money. We also need money for feeding, clothing and toiletries.

Our second major challenge is getting able and dedicated staff to take care of the children. Taking care of children with disabilities is not an easy one; they need constant monitor and care as majority of them are totally dependent on their caregivers.

 

With all your challenges what motivates you every day?

  • My motivation comes from the children. Every day when I look at them, I see a lot of changes in their lives. I see hope in their eyes. Many of them have come to know the Lord personally. They have also discovered their inherent talents and potentials. In Jesus kids, we try to bring abilities out of their disabilities.

 

  • What advise do you have for parents of special needs children

The first thing I would say is that parents should see this as a ministry. Secondly, they should get the right information about their child’s medical condition. Information can be gotten from medical doctors, reading books, through the internet and also by attending seminars where the issues are being discussed. Thirdly, parents should also see these children as gifts from God; they should love and care for them and not neglect them.