I have a World Pulse sister by name Cynda. I hope she finds time to read this. Cynda, if you do find time to read this post, kindly note that across the oceans you have set an unrecognized record, which I wish the world recognizes someday. You have proved to the world that all that persons with disabilities need is empowerment. Your sisterly touch on my life has proved beyond doubt that if given opportunity a woman living with a disability can be indispensable.
It was just a comment I made on a post ‘Miracles of Erin’ at 7:45 on 18 February 2011 that brought me to the notice of Cynda Collins Arsenault. This post was submitted by Cynda to WP in response to a call on ‘My Story: Miracles.’
On 20 February, 2011 Cynda, an incredible woman builder responded to my comment on her post with these words: “Hi Celine … I spent some time reading your postings and I love the work you are doing. Were you able to get the funding to go to PWESCR’s Leadership Institute in Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights? Are you going to the 2nd part in June? Erin had some money left over in her account which I am using to help other people with disabilities. Let me know if I can help out.” By that date I have already missed the said training because of issues bothering around funding. But that same year I was also selected for a six weeks training on women human rights at the OISE, University of Toronto, Canada. The training is partially free but trainees will have to pay 1000 dollars to cover school fee and accommodation and again be responsible for their round trip airfare as well as feeding for the period.
It is an open secret that across the world, women living with disabilities face the most difficult situations. These significant challenges are revolved around poverty and lack of education /empowerment / exposure. These challenges became aggravated when the women live in the developing country. Issues of joblessness, stigma and stereotypes are what make things complex for women with disabilities.
I was living in the above narrated situation when Cynda the lady with a beautiful soul came across my way in 2011 through the WP connection. My joining the WP in 2009 was in search of solutions to the hardship I was passing through. I must confess that because of the challenges confronting me I did not know that Cynda responded to my comment on her post. Sister Jade Frank, another motivator / strong encourager of mine and a former WP staff called my attention to the response during one of our discussions online. I was filled with tears of joy when true to her words Cynda sent my school fees directly to OISE. She bought and sent my air ticket to and fro Canada and sent me physical cash for feeding through her sister-in-law who lives in Toronto. The sister-in-law contacted me immediately I came into Ontario and brought me money for my feeding. At this point, let me confess that I starved myself to safe up part of this money which I used to buy a mini sized HP laptop from downtown Toronto. Cynda sent me reference letter that facilitated my visa processes. Cynda’s actions astounded the leader of the organization where I worked for years without pay. On June Cynda visited me in Toronto and we met for the first time.
I came back to Nigeria reinvigorated. I was knowledgeable with UN human rights instruments. I spoke out on human rights situations in Nigeria. Above all I set out helping many women address their complaints using human rights perspectives. I trained some women on human rights issues, wrote journals on human rights of women. Some of my writings on human rights situations of women with disabilities Nigeria are used as reference by Civil Societies organizations in Nigeria and the United Nations Organization. Wow, life became worth living again, thanks to amazing wonders of online connection made possible by the World Pulse. Thanks to the generous soul who strongly stood by my side.
Later in 2011, the leadership of the organization where I was working without pay changed. I was still working there because I could not get another job and I would not like to be idle. Neither would I bring myself to street begging which is the basic and sure means of income for Nigerians with disabilities. When I could not pay my house rents any longer the landlord sent me out of the house. In this house I have held empowerment programmes for women with disabilities using my savings. I went back to square one. Going a step forward and 10 steps backward has always been my experience in Nigeria. September of 2011 through 2012 to June 2013 I was simply a shadow of my former self. But I kept on struggling, I did not give up. I was selected one of the best 6 of WP VOF graduates of 2012. But I could not meet up with some logistic issues. I equally lost a good number of opportunities. When I was ejected out of my accommodation in December 2012 by the landlord I travelled to my village to stay with my mother. I stayed 3 months there without job and in total hardship. I was totally out of communication with my friends and associates.
Coming back to Lagos I went to stay with an aunt who lives in Ajegunle, the most prominent ghetto in Lagos. My aunt worked on me, counselled me and was devoted to paying for my internet facilities which enabled me connect with the world once again. Special thanks to Cynda again for the pocket money which enabled me get my laptop in 2011! Once, I wrote an article for Sister Chi Yvonne and she paid me. I applied for and was selected for Diploma Course of the Coady International Institute and was selected. I was to pay 25% of the fees and be responsible for my ticket while the Institute pay the 75% for me. My mother cleaned up her life savings to assist me. I used the money to pay for the 25% and still needed money for my ticket. I still needed money and support letters for the rigorous visa processes. I remembered Cynda, my angel woman! I wished I could share my experience with her. I wished I could explain to her why I was backsliding in our agreement in 2011 that I went back to assist other women in Nigeria.
I summoned courage and contacted her once again around March 2013. Alas, she responded and some of her words: “Hi Celine-- how nice to hear from you but how frustrating for all that you have to put up with! Oh my heart breaks for you. Yes, we will definitely …” Cynda did not only send me supporting letters, Cynda sent dollars into my account and bought my round trip air ticket to Antigonish, Canada!
From Canada I traveled to Busan, South Korea for an important world assembly. My supervisor granted me research leave. Oh my God! Cynda made all these possible, more easy and achievable with my laptop bought in 2011. I came back to Canada after the assembly, defended my research and concluded my course. I presented one of the best Independent Study of that year. Upon completion of my studies at Coady International Institute, a ‘nobody’ in me was changed to ‘somebody’ of the world. I was sorted after by the organization I work with today before I completed my Diploma course in December 2013. I joined the organization in March 2014. Today, I hold an important position that gives me opportunity of using my skills and knowledge in development works that change lives in my country.
I am proved unique because I break barriers, I break stereotypes. Among partners and associates, I am a skilled woman, the special workaholic who knows so much about development and uses her skills in changing the society. I am where I am today because I beat their thinking that PWDs are not good for nothing or not employable. But I did beat this thinking and stereotypes through a sisterly push.