Even in a crowd of people, Nipaeli stood out. Her beauty is indescribable. The problem was she was living a life she did not ask for. She left her family to be with her husband. Her husband moved them to a village that was foreign to her. They had four children back to back. When Jonathan was born, Nipaeli had been pregnant for 11 months. Though never formally diagnosed, all signs point to Cerebral Palsy. When it was clear there were problems with Jonathan’s development, Nipaeli’s husband left. He found another wife in the city. He returns occasionally but not that often.
We met Nipaeli at the Lerai village meeting. There were close to 300 women sitting on a hillside. The colors of the kitenge fabrics they wore, danced in the sunshine. After addressing a handful of opportunities, the meeting moved to more intimate matters.
Save the Rain has a medical program that not only distributes wheelchairs to disabled children but gives them and other children in need access to medical care. The closest clinic was far and most of the mothers that needed it could not afford it. So the question was asked if any of their children were disabled. Silence followed.
Disabled children are normally hidden out of shame. The women looked at each other wondering. Slowly one hand rose from the center of the hill. It was Nipaeli. When she realized she was the only one, she put her hand down quickly, praying she could put her secret back in the bag. We explained to the women that a child’s disability is not shameful nor is it usually the fault of the mother. But mothers carry their children’s burdens and project far with concerns for the future. In a culture that shuns disability, that worry is even greater for someone in Nipaeli’s shoes.
Afterward, we sat with her. Held her as she cried. Finally able to exhale, she was no longer alone. Jonathan got a wheelchair. Nipaeli got a job with Save the Rain. Her sister came to live her and helped her with the children. Within months, Nipaeli had leveraged her opportunities to the point where she was able to finish the home her husband left her in. She was using Jonathan’s wheelchair to teach him to walk. She was building a life that had dreams. Jonathan was going to physical therapy and getting medical care. When her husband returned home, he wondered why he left.
Nipaeli was trained in Save the Rain’s Women’s Water Initiative. She was employed first as a laborer. Within months, she was promoted to mason. Within a year, Nipaeli advanced to managing a team of 24 women builders to bring clean water and food security to communities in her area.
She teaches others to grab hold of opportunities and make them into dreams. She dared impossibility to stop her and she won.