One Saturday, as usual, I drove to the National Spinal Injury Hospital (NSIH). When I got there, I requested a gentleman, whom I later learnt was a brother to one of the patients, to help me get on my wheelchair. He was amazed!
“So you drive? And you cannot walk? Yet you’re such warm and joyful person,” he said to me.
“Oh, yes,” I replied, “And I was once a patient here, for seven months.”
His brother, just like me, was involved in a grisly road accident and suffered spinal cord injury. Like any other new-found friend he wanted to know more about me and my injury, and why it did not seem to be an issue.
As a wheelchair user for nearly 10 years now, moving about freely is not that easy. But that has never stopped me from pursuing my dreams and leading a happy life.
In fact, my injury has opened my eyes to see my true abilities. Not only do I drive within Nairobi, but I even enjoy long trips to Garissa and, recently, Isiolo.
I always tell patients at the NSIH (and most of them are new entrants to “The Accident Club”) that just because, for instance, they lost eyesight doesn’t mean they lack vision.
Don’t sit there and whine “why me?” It is nonsense and a waste of time to be angry about your fate and other challenges in life. One has to get on with life.
Naturally, people won’t have time for you if you are always angry and complaining. Recognise the challenge is just a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone somewhere. Just choose hope and anything is possible.
On March 23, 2007, I was involved in a horrific road accident that almost took my life. For almost a year, I spent my time staring at hospital ceilings and another long year completely confined on a bed in our rural home in Kutulo, Mandera.
There I listened to the cracking sound of iron sheets under the sweltering heat. Doctors told me I would never walk again. Recovery and adjusting to life on a wheelchair was tough and frustrating. Sometimes families and friends thought I would not make it.
I have gone through many life challenging situations, but on this one, I deeply felt the mountain was not only too high but very steep. But my inner voice kept on reminding me: “Harun, don’t give up. Your life might have been spared for a reason”.
I then understood my mission was to share my testimonies to motivate others, some of whom are fighting tougher battles. I started going out. I made new friends and I read for my post-graduate course in Public Administration. I made a tradition to visit the spinal hospital and share my stories and learn from others.
My wheelchair lifestyle also gave me an opportunity to understand a world view. Nearly one billion people worldwide are unable to move around on their own according to World Health Organisation.
Seventy million of them need a wheelchair. Eighty per cent of these wheelchair users leave in developing countries in poverty with 90 per cent of children not going to school.
Harum M. Hassan is executive director, Northern Nomadic Disabled Organisation.