24th June 2024
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The inspiring journey of three South Sudanese women with disabilities

Author: Hellen Samuel | Published: Friday, June 7, 2024

From left to right: Mary Mateyo, Roda Atanasio and Zakia Musa during a talk show at Eye Radio on May 30, 2024 - Credit: Moses Awan/Eye Radio

Three women living with different forms of disability shared their stories on Eye Radio about the challenges they encountered and how they managed to overcome them by defying all odds to prove to their families, the communities, and society at large that all hope is not lost.

Zakia Musa, Mary Matayo Kenyi and Zakia Musa are remarkable women who have courageously shared their inspiring journeys of triumph over disability challenges with Eye Radio.

Zakia who lost her sight at a very young age is now a university graduate of the School of Psychology.

She was born a healthy normal baby but just after she turned one year, her eyes started bleeding profusely and her parents immediately sought medical treatment.

Zakia was rushed to Khartoum for further attention.

“All this effort was in vain because the ophthalmologist found that my pupils were damaged and that is why I was shedding bloody tears,” Zakia said.

“Undergoing surgery was another option to save my eyes but there was only a 40% chance of surviving the ordeal,” she said.

She added, “It was decided that better for me to be alive than to take chances with a surgery that may not be successful.”

Zakia was a teacher at the Rajaf School for the Blind while she was still a student at the University of Juba in 2012, and worked with the Humanity Inclusion organization.

She joined the team at the Centers for Disease Control in Juba, the COVID-19 emergency response but later moved to the reproductive health- family planning unit.

During the commemoration of Human Rights Day on the 10th of December 2022, a civil society activist advocating for human rights is nominated as the activist of the year.

Zakia was nominated then by more than 50 civil societies as a disability rights activist.

“I was very proud to earn a certificate, right now, I am a disability Rights Activist in South Sudan,” she said.

Mary Matayo Kenyi is a university graduate with a diploma in business administration.

She was first engaged as a basic school teacher at the USRATUNA rehabilitation Centre for six years and later the Rural Development Co-operative as a cooperative office.

“Currently, I am the Deputy Chairperson of the Women with Disability network,” Mary said.

“I was born without a disability. One day my mother told me that I was sick when I was young and all the treatments failed to cure me making me unable to walk again,” she said.

“It seems I had polio but my parents did not know. My spinal cord was affected and it became deformed. Maybe if I was vaccinated against polio, I wouldn’t be like this today,” she concluded.

Another remarkable woman is Roda Atanasio, a visually impaired teacher.

Roda who teaches at the Institute for the Visually Impaired is also a Chairlady for the South Sudan Women with Disability Network.

She says she lost her sight at the age of five due to meningitis. She is married and has two children.

“The life of persons with disability is full of hardships every day especially as a girl unless you have an understanding family. Even in marriage, the challenges are huge,” Roda said.

“Once upon a time, I was in a relationship with a very understanding young man. His relatives asked, who are you dating? When told that about me, the relatives asked him, how would you introduce your blind fiancée to your friends? These comments affected him so he either had to continue with the relationship or withdraw tactically,” she said.

Roda, later, married someone without disability and they had two children.

“There are challenges in our marriage. His relatives used to wonder about how a blind wife would cope with the house chores,” Roda said.

“I was able to do everything and proved them wrong,” she said.

She added, “Your success depends on your determination to overcome misconceptions about persons living with a disability.”

Marriage for Mary is a different story, as her marriage almost drove her to take her life.

“I faced a lot of challenges when I got married. There was a lot of discrimination which nearly forced me to commit suicide but when I realized that my family were very supportive of me,” Mary said.

“I decided to abandon that thought and decided to get a divorce. We were officially divorced and I returned home,” she said.

“This experience has killed my interest to get married again, it was nasty and I do not want to go through it again.

“Imagine comments like; didn’t you see the kind of woman you marry? Despite all that you do, you will still be called names according to the type of your condition,” she concluded.

Overcoming Disability:

Zakia reflects on her journey as a passionate advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, a path that not only brings her joy but also opens doors to global conversations.

Her ability to leverage education and technology empowers her to transcend borders, facilitating workshops and training worldwide.

From South Sudan to international platforms, Zakia’s voice resonates, shaping inclusive programming and processes.

Today, she stands as a consultant, a testament to the transformative power of education, courage, and visibility.

Her success is not solitary; it’s a testimony to the collective support that uplifts her journey.

For her part, Roda finds immense joy in her role as an educator, a passion sparked by the inspiring image of female teachers from her childhood, dressed in white garments.

Despite losing her sight, her dream of becoming a teacher persisted, and today, she stands fulfilled in her chosen path.

Reflecting on her journey, Roda beams as she recalls nurturing a generation of students, witnessing their growth into graduates who affectionately address her as “Madam Roda.”

Beyond the classroom, Roda’s heart beats for advocacy, particularly championing women’s issues. Through her tireless efforts, she believes she’s been a catalyst for transformative change in the lives of women across South Sudan.

These milestones, these tangible impacts, fuel Roda’s spirit, propelling her ever-forward with a radiant smile lighting her way.

Mary expresses profound gratitude for the transformative power of education in her life. Through knowledge acquisition, she has found her footing and independence.

Joining an organization for the physically disabled opened her eyes to her rights and equipped her with the tools to advocate not just for herself, but for fellow women and individuals living with disabilities.

Today, she stands as a beacon of empowerment, spearheading the formation of new associations for persons with disabilities, extending a welcoming hand to others, and fostering a community of support and encouragement.

Voices of Empowerment:

Zakia’s message resonates with hope and empowerment for parents of children with disabilities.

She encourages them to see beyond the challenges, emphasizing patience and unwavering support to nurture their child’s self-confidence and pave the way for future success.

Zakia advocates for empowerment through assigning responsibilities within the home, instilling a sense of capability and independence from an early age.

Highlighting the global focus on inclusion through Sustainable Development Goals, she stresses the importance of not just lip service but genuine integration across sectors.

Zakia calls upon both government and private sectors to actively include persons with disabilities in their programs, ensuring access to vocational centres for sustainable empowerment and participation in society.

Roda’s poignant message echoes across communities in South Sudan, urging parents to foster independence in their children.

She advocates for inclusivity, emphasizing that disabled children deserve equal opportunities, including access to education.

By encouraging participation in household activities and fostering inclusive play, families can nurture strength and resilience in all their children.

Roda emphasizes the importance of women with disabilities remaining integrated within their communities, advocating for their inclusion and active participation in society.

Mary’s key message resonates deeply with the importance of inclusivity within families.

She urges parents not to discriminate against their children based on abilities.

Embracing and providing equal rights and opportunities for all children, including those with disabilities, is crucial.

By ensuring access to education for every child, regardless of their abilities, parents pave the way for a future where individuals with disabilities can achieve independence and contribute meaningfully to society.

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