Breaking the Shackles of Disability

Growing up as a child without any form of physical disability. Running and making childish noise was fun. I remember when I used to play and fight with my elder sister. But unimaginably, my life took a turn around when I got affected by polio. The story changed from a very active and energetic little girl running all over the place to a child that would just sit on one spot day in, day out. It was a new normal my mom could not accept. She tried all she could to restore my ability to walk again to no avail. My life revolved on a daily routine of painful massage and fire burns as it was a typical traditional belief it will work. But nothing happened. Rather it left me with so much pains. I and my mom will take turns crying every time she does the massage. My mom really tried her best. Being the last and very intelligent child from a family of 11 children, I got alot of support from my family to ensure I went to school. My older siblings would take turns to carry me on their backs to school and back home. This continued until I got to college. Before being enrolled in college, my dad bought a second-hand tricycle that enabled my movement. This gave me some level of freedom as I was able to move around. Nevertheless, I could not paddle the tricycle to a certain distance without someone giving a push. I needed somebody to wheel me around but at least not to be carried on the back. Few years later my dad died. All of my siblings were still in school and I usually felt heartbroken each time my tricycle gets bad and there was nobody to pay fir it to be fixed. "Dad why have you done this to me? How could you leave me stranded in this poverty and expect me to cope? This is just too much for me". I would cry each time I'm in such situation. My mom, was a support system. She did all kinds of peti business to make sure that she privides my needs. I was the most brilliant student in each class yet the magnitude of stigmatization, inaccessibility and marginalization I encounter was degrading but I kept pushing. This continued till I got to the University. At the University of Buea, Cameroon, I saw life on another level. It was more of "mind your business", I almost gave up on the first day. I was accompanied by my elder brother. I remember his words clearly. He said, "Dibo, you are now in the University and this is a new life experience altogether. How well you will perform depends on how determined you will be. You have been a fighter and I believe in you. Life has been so challenging to you and this is the last challenge. You have to face it and you MUST overcome it. Other persons with disabilities have passed through this institution. You too will do the same. If at any point you need somebody to help you and you are not comfortable with the people around, just call me and I will be here. But make new friends as your spirit leads you cuz I'm not going to be available at all times". He said it with so much love and it boosted my confidence. Then I gave him a high five, telling him, "I can do it".  While on campus, it was both a physical and mental battle for me. I lost count of the number of lectures I missed  because of inaccessibility of the venues. Sometimes I would sit under the trees planted beside the administrative block and cry my eyes out. Gradually that became my usual crying position. I would just sit there alone and cry. After crying, I will feel a little bit relieved. I remember the times I would get home at 9pm because the car that takes me to school and back had a breakdown and  there was no extra money to pay for taxi to take me home. I would call my elder brother and he will wheel me to cover a distance of about 5-10km on a bad road. Upton reaching home, I would be completely exhausted to an extent that I will miss lectures for the next 2 days. Some days were less stressful while others got me broken. My life took a different turn on the 28th of November, 2017. That fateful morning on campus, I had to experience the effect of tear gas and it was thanks to God that I was not walked upon by the confused crowd of students. Due to insecurity, I dropped out of school. My dreams and aspirations were shattered. My life became a dark dungeon of regrets and sorrow as I was not able to send my son to school neither was I able to buy meds for my sick mom back then. I would cry everyday. Oh my life! I went into depression. I became a shadow of myself. I grew so thin but I was not sick. Depression kept eating me up. At a point in my life I thought of ending the messed up life. Suicidal thoughts kept running through my mind but I was waiting for the right time to do it. While waiting, I met with a psychosocial counselor and my life changed. One fateful day, a handsome guy paid us a visit. Through our conversation, he discovered that I was not okay. Then he started some counseling sessions with me. He dared me by saying, "I am somebody's King. Don't you want to be somebody's Queen? Life is sweet when you meet the right people. Lilian you are beautiful and filled with potentials. You cannot fulfill purpose sitting all day at home. Step out and explore. Meet new people. Go to new places. Travel if you can. There are so many opportunities that are out there waiting for you to step out of your comfort zone. You have to think about life all over again". Then he left.  I went to the room and felt as if some cobwebs were taken off my face. "STEP OUT AND EXPLORE" was ringing in my head. I told my sister to help sponsor me in a Counseling Institute and she accepted. With her first salary, she sacrificed it all for me. I emerged the best student in Trauma Counseling. Then I wrote a book titled, Living with Disability. I became a radio host for disability advocacy. I got into Miss Wheelchair Cameroon beauty pageant and was nominated the First Runner Up of Miss Wheelchair Cameroon 2020/2021. I formed the Lilian Dibo Foundation which focuses on Inclusion, Equality and Empowerment. As a young woman with disability myself, It always breaks my heart to see other women and girls with disabilities being stigmatized and assaulted because of one reason or the other. As such I have organized numerous free trainings on Ankara and beads accessories designing, production and donation of facemasks and detergents, mattresses and start-up capitals, took care of medical bills for women with disabilities, organized both online and offline capacity building workshops on Gender Base Violence against children and women with disabilities, disability rights advocacy and child protection. Due to the fact that parents with disabilities find it even more difficult to cater for their children and most times their children are not able to have quality education like other children, with the help of her partner, Lilian Dibo Foundation is currently on a mission to give out scholarship for 23 girls(children from parents with disabilities)to pursue their education and stay focused on their dreams and aspirations.  Due to the fact that I want to be the change I want to see in the lives of women and girls with disabilities, I took it upon myself to learn new skills, attend  both online and offline capacity building trainings so that I can be able to transfer this knowledge and skills.  Seeing the rate of exclusion women with disabilities go through as a result of certain barriers, it breaks my heart. Lilian Dibo Foundation is planning to build a 100% accessible multipurpose building that will harbor displaced persons with disabilities, with a vocational training center and a conference hall. The passion for my disability community helps me break every shackles. Disability is a whole package. Sometimes we just need that support to keep going. It is very difficult at times when you have potentials but lack the platforms to exhibit them. We have to fight this together. We all have a roll to play in order to help Break the Shackles of Disability. Together as a team, let's help the disability community through education, empowerment and advocacy then watch them Breaking the Shackles of Disability all by themselves because they must have gotten the ability to.

This story is submitted with respect to the Disability Justice  

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