FARAJA, GOODLUCK AND 600 WHEEL CHAIRS
When Save the Rain came to Nkoansiyo, Goodluck was hired to cook for the builders constructing rainwater harvesting tanks for his community. After a few days, he did an unusual thing: he invited the Save the Rain team to his home to meet his six year old daughter, Faraja. At first glance, that might not seem unusual in the least – but in this community, it was.
Faraja was born with spina bifida, and the surgery to remove the mass from her lower back left her paralyzed from the waist down. She dragged herself around the floor using her upper body, and her world was limited to the confines of Goodluck’s small home.
Goodluck describes the shame that he and others in his community felt, not just at having a disabled child, but at being unable to provide for them: not having the means to buy costly wheelchairs or take them to school. And, as we all know, shame makes us hide. Maybe something in him had a premonitory sense of the scale of change this invitation would bring about – but whichever way you look at it, bringing Save the Rain into his home was an unconventional but brave thing to do.
There’s something special about Faraja. At first glance, we were immediately moved to do something to lift her off of a life on the floor. We partnered with an organization that designs wheelchairs from recycled bicycles. We imparted the gift of mobility to Faraja and others like her. With her new wheels, her world expanded: she began to go outside, to meet her neighbors for the first time, and to participate in life beyond the four walls of her home.
The promise in Faraja’s intelligent, fearless eyes was unmistakable. Although she had never set foot in a classroom, she had always longed to go to school – but there were no other disabled students enrolled and no wheelchair access. We asked the headmaster if he’d accept Faraja as a student if we built ramps. He was delighted and welcomed the opportunity to open up the school to this brave young pioneer. Faraja didn’t miss a beat. Despite no education up to that point – she couldn’t read or write – she learned voraciously and is now at the top of her class. She is blazing a trail for other kids like her. She’d always felt a sense of deprivation at the sound of other children laughing and playing, learning and growing … now she’s taken her place alongside them, and there’s no holding her back.
Goodluck is bursting with pride as he speaks of his daughter’s scholarly prowess – he says she’s scared of nothing now, and she’s on a ladder up… to where? He doesn’t know, but his message to parents with disabled children is not to hide them; they can succeed – they could even be in parliament, he says. The scope of Faraja’s future has expanded beyond measure, and in her father’s mind, the possibilities are limitless.
His work with Save the Rain has given him reasons to be proud of himself, too. In a cruel twist of irony, before becoming Save the Rain’s cook, he struggled to put food on his own table. Now he grows his own and sells what he and his family don’t need. He provides for his loved ones and has even purchased a piece of land to build upon. It’s an investment that will take care of him in his old age, he says. Like Faraja, his future looks warm and bright. It’s the gift of rain that has done this – for Faraja, Goodluck, and so many others in their community.
What could so easily have been a life on the floor indoors is, when you look at Faraja, a tale of triumph, a testament to courage, and a lesson in surmounting seemingly insurmountable adversity. We all long to be seen, in our wholeness. To be looked at for who we are, and for the who we might yet become. Faraja inspired a wheelchair distribution project throughout the region. She was the first of over 600 children who received a wheelchair due to spina bifida or paralysis from fluorosis. Almost all are in school.