Uche Amunike listening to Doris talk passionately about her life
I have a very soft spot for challenged children. Perhaps it's because I have a child in that regard. Perhaps it's also, simply I my nature. The fact, however is that nothing moves me as much as a child with a special need. It's really heartbreaking, especially as our society has nothing in place for such children. They are merged with their fellow children who are not challenged, and this naturally makes them exposed to mockery, taunts, a very easy pointer to their defects and general stigmatization. That is unlike in western climes where such children are taken very good care of and their greatest potentials tapped, in other to make them useful to themselves, their families and society at large
The girl I write about is a very beautiful girl challenged by a bone problem at the age of three that left her dwarfed since she was three. Please read the excerpts of my interview with her.
For the intent of this interview, kindly tell us about yourself.
I am Okolo Ebelechukwu Doris. I'm a student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. I am studying Botany. I am from Ugbenu at Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State. I was born and brought up in Nnewi. My mum is late. She died last year, precisely on the 3rd day of March, 2016. So, currently, I'm left with my dad and three siblings. I am the first child of my parents. We are actually four in number. Two boys and two girls. We were truly loved by our parents. We were brought up together and the first time I left home was when I got into school. I never left home all my life.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was fun. It was beautiful, but challenging. My mum told me that whatever that happened to me started when I was three. She took me to the hospital. I can remember clearly the series of injections given to me, the dieting, taking milk etc. I received mockery from peers. At times they mimic me and whenever I pass children laugh and make jokes of me. However, I wouldn't say I never got hurt, all those times. I felt bad, but it never affected me because, my dad, mum and siblings believed in me and I always told myself that I was meant to be happy. I actually found out that my happiness lay inside of myself. When I realized that, I took my world as my dad, mum and younger ones. I had wonderful friends, too. I have heard stories of people that have never had friends. I mean, people like me that hardly had friends, but right from time, I had friends and while growing up, people liked me and knew my name as Doris. I always did well in school. I always saw myself around people. I never got shy, although I felt somehow atimes.
What primary school did you attend?
I attended two primary schools. God's Time Nursery and Primary school, Nnewi Ichi, Nnewi . It's a private school. I also attended Odida Central School at Nnewi Ichi.
What's your course of study in the university?
I'm studying Botany. I'm in my third year.
So, what's it like for you in that world? I mean the university environment.
It's tough. You know, education system in Nigeria is not encouraging. The first time I went to school was when I went to change my course from Medicine to Botany because of my JAMB score. When I entered the school environment, it was tough. You know, having to cross the big gutters in UNIZIK was really challenging. I was scared, so I had to trek a very long distance turning round and round. It was really challenging. I had not taken my POST UMTE then and I prayed to God that that would not be my last time of passing through that gate and that I must get admission into the school. Botany wasn't my dream course. So, it wasn't easy for me to study it. I really wanted to study medicine, but I took Botany as a stepping stone to whatever I would be. Perhaps, if I had been waiting for Medicine, maybe many things wouldn't have happened in my life. In the university world, here I Nigeria, we are not encouraged. Sometimes, I go to class and the Number of students in class wouldn't allow me to see the board or even allow me to understand. Being that all my life in both primary and secondary schools, I was always in the front seat, it became challenging. At a point, I called my dad and said, 'dad, I can't do this. I don't understand what everybody else here is doing. I don't understand a thing in the class. My physics teacher is discouraging me by saying I would fail. '. It wasn't easy. I got angry and for the first time, I went to night class because I wanted to succeed. My faculty mates were actually very good to me. They tried sometimes, to get seats for me. Whenever they rush inside for classes, I won't be able to rush inside with them. So, I had to stay back and be the last person to enter. They really tried for me. Again, during my first practical called BIO 103 in my first time in school, I drew an alimentary canal of a lizard. Others were downloading from their phones, but I preferred to draw directly from the dissected lizard. After drawing it, the teacher looked at me and asked if I was the one that drew it. I told her, 'yes'. Then she said something that hurt me. She said, 'I don't like it when assignments are given and everyone wants to do it on their own. I was shocked. I looked at her with shock as she gave me 6/10. I was pissed off. I felt bad. I felt down. I asked myself, does she think that because my legs are not pretty good and my height is not to their taste, then my hands can't do things that are good? I became frustrated. I looked at my course rep that I didn't think did it on his own but was given 9/10. I was given the lowest mark in the group and that hurt me terribly and discouraged me a great deal. I moved out of the class, flung my jacket away angrily and told myself, 'I am not doing this again' I however gave it a second thought that I would have to be great to prove to her that I could be somebody in life.
That experience happened in your first year, so presently, you are used to the challenges you face?
It's still very difficult. Sometimes, when projects are given and my classmates expect me to jump around like them, walk into the bush and do the research and I refuse to, I tell them 'see, let me do the one that I can do'. This is because I understand my body chemistry, so I don't have to get stressed unnecessarily. So, I take good care of myself, but they were like, 'Doris, why this? Doris, why that'? The few that understood would ask them to let me be. But it wasn't easy because I didn't like the idea of complaining all the time. I knew they were expecting me to complain, but I refused to. The last time I was frustrated was the last assignment we were given where we were expected to go into the bush, stream, etc. It was a research. I couldn't do it. At the end of the day, they didn't really get me angry, that much because I thought to myself that they were thinking from their own angle. The fact, however remains that I am not like them and I expect them to understand that. I refused to plead with them to understand me. I just prayed to God at that point that I should understand them too.
Ok, so what are your hobbies?
They are much. I like writing, reading, singing and even lyrics writing. I plait hair. I make wigs. I dance. I make beads, although currently in the process. I do make over even though I didn't even learn it. I do all these but what makes me happier is writing poems and stories.
What's your love life like? Do you have a man in your life? It's okay if you don't want to talk about it. I'll respect your decision.
Love life is beautiful. I've not experienced the kind of heartbreak some people experience. The person in my life is very stable. I've met handsome guys that like me the way I am and respect me a great deal. Sometimes, my friends would be surprised, but the thing is, they tell me that they see something in me that they don't see elsewhere. It is wonderful. When they come close to me thinking 'she didn't receive love. Let's deceive her'. But when the person comes, they see that all the love I need was given to me by my parents and my friends and tend to get attracted and then, stay.
Most people like you don't receive love like you said, but you seem to be stable because of your background and you know, the best thing that you will give to anyone who is challenged is love. So, I think you're very stable in that respect. So, out there, do people show you pity? Again, do you enjoy being pitied?
I hate pity, but people kept on pitying me. At a point, even some of the guys that came into my life did so out of pity. But when I began to talk, they would be like, 'wow'. I was never pitied at home. I washed my clothes and that of my younger ones. I cleaned the house. I cook very well because my mum is a very good cook. I served my parents. I did whatever a woman was expected to do at home. I saw myself like everyone else. I really hated the idea of being pitied more than anything.
If you were to make an appeal to your school management, what would you appeal for?
I would appeal to them to create an avenue for the challenged students in there. It's not just about me. I can go through it. There are people that can't. I'm talking about people who use crutches, or even those that crawl. I feel bad each time I see them struggling to enter a bus, etc. They aren't given any preferential treatment. They should be helped. There should be an avenue where they sit well in class. They need encouragement and help. Some of them don't pay their school fees comfortably. This is because some of them were rejected by family members but trying to make on their own.
To be continued…