Ndi Veronica Ngum grew up with a disability that threatened her independence. Now, she’s a powerful disability rights activist working to empower others.
“Despite all these barriers in my life, I had dreams, ambitions, and a vision of who I wanted to become.”
I was born with a disability that caused me to be among the most marginalized minority groups in my country of Cameroon. When I was growing up, the discrimination started at home and spread to the wider community.
At home, I was seen as the fragile one who needed to be protected and assisted at every turn. I was not allowed to participate in household chores, nor was I allowed to fulfill my full potential as a girl or as a lady. My family saw me through pitiful eyes and considered me to be a sick person.
I watched as my peers started attending school; I went two years later. When my friends were leaving for school, I was entering the operating theater for a corrective surgery on my deformed foot. When my friends became independent and left home, I became more dependent and remained at home where my family supported and assisted me.
My family did not know that they had ignorantly sown the seeds of stigmatization, marginalization, and discrimination in my life, themes that would go on to affect me greatly. Their unjust actions, in the name of protecting me, placed a barrier on my access to education, empowerment, economic growth, and socialization. I was not allowed to live independently, so I had no voice or power to make my own decisions. Everything was decided for me: the kind of clothes and shoes I wore; the age at which I attended school; what course to pursue in university; the kind of career that would be right for me because I was so fragile.
Despite all these barriers in my life, I had dreams, ambitions, and a vision of who I wanted to become. I was never given the opportunity to express these hopes or to gain the support I needed to pursue my dreams and make my vision a reality.
I was silent, and this silence was slowly killing my dreams and stealing away my power. And yet, even with this barrier, I slowly but surely made my way to the top.
One day, I was employed as a babysitter. I went to live in the home of a very rich family. The mother of that family was an empowered woman who faced challenges, but she did not let those challenges alter her love for us. I started to think that I would like to be like her one day. When it was time for me to learn a trade, I told her I would like to attend school instead. She agreed with me and told me that I would need a job that would protect me as a person with a disability. I have always loved community development, and that is how I found my path.
I worked so hard to be empowered, and today, I work for the rights of other women with disabilities. I know that all women and girls who are disabled face similar challenges, and I know that I have a lot to give back to my community of women with disabilities. I help them have the assertiveness needed to leave their own comfort zones and speak out.
As the president of the North West Association of Women with Disability, I lead women with disability to break barriers in every facet of their lives, so that they can explore all opportunities and become instruments of sustainable development and empowerment. I stand to make a difference by empowering women with disabilities to cultivate self-esteem and assertiveness and to speak out and be Silence Breakers.
Now, women with disabilities in my community have greatly improved confidence. They are able to identify and understand the different forms of abuse they face and know how their rights can be violated. They know how to report any form of abuse they come up against, and they can speak out when they face these rights violations. They have skills and are generating income for themselves and their families. They are part of decision-making circles and can make decisions for themselves.
I have worked so that families know that women with disabilities can also be risk takers and can bring about change.
This past month, women with disabilities from all over the North West Region of Cameroon joined the rest of the community to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8. This is one of my greatest achievements in my reign as the leader of women with disabilities in my region because we were included.
We participated in an international day of celebration for women, as women. We broke our silence, and we will continue to break our silence until we are heard.
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