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My brilliance in school took people’s attention away from my disability – UNIUYO graduate

A 22-year-Old English graduate from the University Of Uyo (UniUyo), Abasikpongke Joshua-Edu, has spoken in an interview about how she obtained a degree despite her disability.

In the interview, the English graduate who has a deformed limb from birth speaks about how she battled with depression and self-esteem before she graduated.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Abasikpongke Joshua-Edu. I am 22 years old. I am from Usu-Abak, Akwa Ibom State. I just defended my undergraduate project a few months ago from the Department of English, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

What was growing up for you like as someone living with a disability?

Growing up was not easy being around people who are not like you. I was always in the face of everyone because of my difference, and it was not easy. I just had to keep moving on with life. I was introduced to the ways of God on time by my parents; that was what really kept me going. I experienced the bad, the ugly and the evil. When I finished from elementary school, I was unsure whether or not to go to a boarding school. I finally decided to try the boarding school.My mother wasn’t in support of it but my dad and elder sister didn’t mind.

Were you born with this condition?

My mother told me that when she gave birth to me, she didn’t even know that I had a disability. She came back home from the hospital with a nurse to take care of me. After nurturing me for about three days, the nurse left. She didn’t say there was a problem; she just left. Later when my mom was bathing me she then noticed that it appeared like one of my limbs was longer than the other. She took me back to the hospital and they said there was nothing they could do about it. They said she should let me mature a little before they would know how best to handle it. According to them, it (the situation) might not be really as serious as my mom thought. So, my mom listened to them but still tried some traditional means. They took me to one of these villages where they massaged my legs in an attempt to make them equal, but it didn’t work. They then took me back to the hospital when I was 10 years old, but the doctors said I could not be operated upon because of my age. They recommended that I should use crutches for the time being. My parents were still trying to get an explanation as to why one of my limbs was shorter than the other. The doctors called the condition certain name and said I might be able to walk if surgery was performed but they kept postponing the surgery till I turned 18 years and got fed up and lost interest  in the procedure. It was going to take my time. When I was supposed to be in school, I wouldn’t  be there; I would be in the hospital battling one thing or another.

What was your experience like in the boarding school?

When I got there, everyone – teachers and students alike – kept staring at me. I just wanted to disappear. At a point in school, I didn’t want to participate in any activity again. I was always reserved and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt I was too different to mingle with others.

You know the way boarding schools are. You would have to fetch water and wash your clothes yourself. I didn’t have much problem washing my clothes, but fetching water was a serious problem. But I had friends who offered to help. It was really a terrible experience to have to do all those things by myself at first without help. I would have loved to do them myself, but it was really difficult for me because of my condition. But I was a really bright student in school, and that is one thing, I think, helped me. So, most people didn’t see me for my disability anymore. You know when you have something of value, people would come around you, because they want tap from it. That way, I was able to, at least, manage my low self-esteem.

What is the place of family support in how you’ve been able to rise above your disability?

My family has been very supportive. I remember days when people would mock me and on getting home and telling my elder sister, she would go in search of whoever it was and beat them up because of me. My family has been really supportive. They made sure I had the best. They gave the best of life, I must say. I had what I needed so I wouldn’t have any reason to shed tears or remember that I have a disability. That was why they took me to one of the best secondary schools in the area at that time. It was not like they even had much money. They just wanted to make sure I was okay.

What advice would you give to families who have persons living with one form of disability or the other?

If there is any family that has someone like me, all they need to show that person is love. It is only love that would make that person overcome his/her low self-esteem. When you see the person struggling to get something done, do not throw your face the other way or neglect the person. Make sure you help the person to go to school. Education would make the person know that he or she is somebody and it would also help the person to love and accept the person or the way they are. It is only when they accept themselves that other people would be able to see them beyond their disability. I always advise people living with disabilities to have something doing – a skill, a trade or whatever – to make sure they are not begging. They must go beyond just looking at their disabilities and go ahead to look for what society is looking for.

READ ALSO: Little Boy who Built a Replica of Overhead Kano Bridge Gets US Scholarship, His Mum Gets N1m & Dad a Job

Have you ever faced a situation where people discriminated against you?

 I wouldn’t say there was no discrimination. When I was still battling low self-esteem, I had issues with discrimination. I hadn’t even accepted myself for who I truly am, so I wasn’t expecting anyone else to accept me. But when I accepted that God is the reason and the purpose for everything, things became easier for me. And that was how I resolved that once and for all.

Was it always your dream to study English?

In secondary school I battled depression and self-esteem. I remember telling my dad that I didn’t want to further my education. I just wanted to finish secondary school and stay indoors, so nobody would see my legs and talk about them. I just wanted to have peace of mind. My dad laughed it off as a dry joke. Whenever I said it, he would tell me that there would be a time I would need education and he didn’t want me to regret not going to school. In SS3, my classmates registered for UTME (Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination). But I wasn’t just interested. I took WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate Examination) and cleared all my papers. Then, my dad died. While I was at home, I found out that some of my classmates had got admission. The following year, I told myself that I would try and take UTME too. I decided I would apply to study Law. I gave it a shot but I wasn’t admitted. The experience, however, reignited my interest in school. I decided to try again the following year. I was really serious and determined about it. But this time, I didn’t go for Law again; I chose English language and I was admitted.

What was your experience in the university?

When I went for my screening at the big hall on the main campus, it was not easy. People were really stressed. The admin staff would say, “Go and change your teller to receipt. Go and print something at your faculty. Do this and do that.” I was so stressed from moving about to get things done. And the stares were just too much. But I overlooked so many things to ensure I didn’t lose interest in my education. In my first year, lectures were in a three-storey building and I had to climb the staircase up. I tried to always go to my lecture hall on time.

Did the lecturers give you some form of consideration?

I didn’t really give them the room for that. My course mates knew me. I would join them on the way to campus, hopping on my crutches. If I had to take a tricycle, I would. I did everything to make sure I didn’t get to the lecture hall late. Many lecturers did not know me until my final year when I had to meet them one-on-one. I had a fair experience at the University of Uyo. I didn’t want all that pity. Whenever I had to queue, I queued. Sometimes, my friends spoke for me so I wouldn’t have to stand in a queue.  I once stood in a queue for up to four hours to submit an assignment and it didn’t kill me (laughs). I used to always say that nobody is better than me. That was just it. Till now, I still believe nobody is better than me.

Do you have anyone or a figure you draw inspiration from?

There is one physically-challenged man in my area, who makes shoes. He is married with kids. If this man handles your shoes, they would look like foreign shoes. He is that good. If you go to his shop, you will see people waiting for him to attend to them. I admire him a lot. I draw a lot of strength from him. He inspires me.

How did you feel when you held your undergraduate project in your hands?

The feeling started when I wrote my final exams. Though the exam was tough, I didn’t let it overwhelm me. When I came out of the exam hall, the feeling was surreal. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. My project was also challenging. I couldn’t get the book that was approved. I became so depressed. When my course mates were on their Chapter Four I was still on Chapter One. I had to call one lecturer, Dr Ima Emmanuel, to explain that I hadn’t got the book I needed for the project and she was kind enough to give me more time to get it. She was asking me if there was a problem, but I said no. I didn’t want to open up. My Head of Department, Dr Ubong Josiah, also called me and then I opened up. He gave me some money to buy my books. I was so happy. Though I submitted my project late, I was so pleased I had people who genuinely cared for me.

What plans do you have for the future?

I am awaiting call-up for the national youth service. I have no fears about my future. I know everything will turn out right. I would also like to travel out and see other places and other people, and live on my own.

READ ALSO: It was a case of social misconduct and physical assault between students – UNILAG debunks report of kidnap attempt


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