Kaele is a small village in the Far North Region of Cameroon. Whilst agriculture has remained the main source of livelihood, the concept of universal education still remains a myth in these communities where educating the girl child is regarded by many as wastage of resources. As the EDID team moved through this desert-like community, the team met with Aziakiato Njabba, a 30-year-old woman living with disability who narrates how she is living her dreams despite several hurdles encountered.
My life took a wrong turn when I was barely six years old; I was bitten by a poisonous snake. The venom was so noxious that after spending five months in the hospital, the flesh on the foot fell off leaving the rotten meat on my left foot at the mercy of flies. One needed to mount the courage to come closer to me because beside the pungent smell, the sight of the leg was frightful. One could literally see the bones of my toes.
I was abandoned to myself in the hospital when my father ordered my mum to leave me after spending three months in the hospital with me. My maternal family had to step in to assist me; they cleaned me up, fed me and paid my bills until I was finally discharged from the hospital. Alas! I could walk again though with crutches.
I was happy to go back home. Little did I know that my father had written my name off the list of his children. As a matter of fact, I was tagged as a witch by my very own father. He gave strict instructions to my mother to starve me to death. As helpless as she was, she had no say in how the lives of her children were run. My mum was bound by culture to obey my dad to the letter. Hence, she devised means of feeding me in secret; I could only eat in the absence of my father or when my sisters were going to fetch water from the river. They will hide food- in buckets to give me on the way. Whenever my father caught me eating, he will beat me up, put some sand into the food and threaten whoever gave it to me. You could see his hatred for me in his eyes. This convinced the neighbors to buy into his witchcraft story. I lived a desolate childhood as children were asked not to play with me.
I really can’t explain where that determination came from despite all my challenges, I can recall repeating to myself that I had to survive. I started following other children to the primary school in the village. The school authorities left me in school until class four. At the end of the academic year, they told me I’ll start paying tuition fees for the next academic year. From that holiday on, I started breaking stones in the village quarry. Before school resumed, I was able to gather money that paid my fees, bought my uniform and exercise books. I paid my own fees until the first year in secondary school. Then hard times stroke again. I fell seriously sick and spent more than three months in the hospital. Once again, it was my mother’s side of the family that stood by me.
My father’s desire to see me dead increased, he literally threatened to kill me with his bare hands. This pushed my mum to start drinking ‘billi billi’, a local alcoholic beverage. She began frequenting every drinking spot in the locality, abandoning her motherly duties.
Paradoxically I started looking after my mum as she moved from one saloon to another. It was in one of these places that my life will take a new turn for the better. I met a visually impaired man who took me to Social Services. That was how I moved from the family home to a foster home under our local Catholic Church. It was under the guidance of the “Sœurs de Marie Reine des Apôtres, Kaélé (A Partner Organisation under the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services) that I succeeded to obtain my secondary school certificate and got my Entrance Examamination into the Teachers Training College. With her newly acquired invalidity card and the intervention of the Social Services, her tuition fee was waived for the three years of her training.
Despite my continual stressful relationship with my father, I graduated from the Teachers Training School in 2016 and I am enjoying life to the fullest. I was the second runner-up at the final of “Miss Handicapée” 2018 for the three Northern Regions of Cameroon. I used the platform to talk about issues surrounding disabilities in my community. I am also taking a front seat at the Parents Support Group of disabled persons in my locality. In this capacity, I act as a role model to other youngsters with disabilities. I have mended my relationship with my father so that I can speak as a wounded healer with authority.
My biggest dream is to see an inclusive society, where children with disabilities, women and other vulnerable members of society will be given the dignity they deserve as integral human beings. To all those living with disabilities, if life throws lemon at your face, turn them into lemonade, never give up!