Featured Storyteller

PANAMA: Chronicles of a Resilient Life

Estefanía Cubillos Nova
Posted December 2, 2021 from Panama
The image shows Estefanía standing in a green field with arms outstretched, holding her white cane. (Photo courtesy of Estefanía Cubillos Nova)

Estefanía Cubillos Nova speaks out on growing up blind and the power of connecting with other women with disabilities to advance her leadership in the world.

“Above all, I hope that we will be able to live safer, more resilient lives, full of possibility.

*Editor's note: This story has been translated from Spanish. You can read the original version and hear Estefanía’s Spanish narration here

*Nota del equipo editorial: Esta historia fue traducida al inglés de su versión original en español. Puedes leer y escuchar la narración original de Estefanía aquí.  

I'm Estefanía. I am currently 28 years old, and I have been practically blind from birth. I was born premature, and when the doctors took me to the incubator for my organs to develop, they forgot to cover my eyes and I was blind.

It was a difficult time, especially for my mother, because she thought that I would never go to school, that I would never work, and that my life had simply ended as soon as I was born. With the passage of time this reality changed, and I received support from teachers at school and by family members. I learned to read and write with the support of my mother through the Braille system. 

Not everything was easy in my childhood. I was born in Colombia, and as a child, I was a victim of bullying due to wearing dark glasses in a mountainous city in Colombia. In my adolescence it was complicated because I always compared my life with the lives of other girls without disabilities. In addition, I did not use a white cane to help myself navigate. I was very ashamed, and I thought that having a cane would make me stand out and would make it so that no one would truly see me.

When I graduated from high school, my life took a 180 degree turn. In 2013, I traveled from my homeland of Colombia to Panama to study journalism. It turned out that, in addition to being a woman with a disability, I would become an immigrant. 

In Panama, my problems continued: the problems of independence and autonomy. One day, I made up my mind and went to Patronato Luz del Ciego , an institute that helped me learn orientation and mobility skills. Little by little I got ahead, and began moving about between my house and my university on the subway. Later I began speaking more in public thanks to my studies in journalism and the opportunities people gave me. 

My first international challenge was to travel to Eugene, Oregon in the United States to participate in the WILD Institute on Leadership and Disability with Mobility International USA (MIUSA). I had previously traveled alone from Panama to my home country, but I had never had a layover. I had to travel from Panama to San Francisco completely by myself. My English language skills are basic, and I had to stay in San Francisco for several hours at the airport. I got lost, but I found kind people who helped me get back to where I needed to be. 

The experience in Eugene was wonderful. I met other women leaders with disabilities who have achieved a lot for their communities. I also learned to seek sponsorships for my projects and above all to generate international alliances with other sisters and organizations. You can imagine all the changes that have been achieved in me thanks to this training! As I mentioned, I faced many problems at the beginning of my life due to having a disability and not knowing how to accept myself. But thanks to the accompaniment of other women with disabilities and the appropriate training, I have been able to get ahead. 

My challenges on a personal and professional level continue, as challenges do. Right now, my goal is to find paid employment. Meanwhile, my work is to continue to help other women and girls with disabilities who went through similar struggles to mine: struggles related to overprotection from families and not recognizing in time that disabilities are conditions that should be worn proudly. We must bear in mind that a disability is something that we must project in a positive way, something that we should not be ashamed of. 

I am very excited about the achievements that have been made for women and girls with disabilities. Above all, I hope that we will be able to live safer, more resilient lives, full of possibility, so that we can develop in the areas we want to: whether as journalists, teachers, lawyers, and more. 

This is my story. I greet you from Panama with the intention of sharing my life testimony. Let my story be a listening opportunity for those women who have not yet found their way and those who are looking to find their way now. 


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's #DisabilityJustice campaign and Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more

Comments 14

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Oluwatoyin Olabisi
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

I salute your courage and resilience. You are not only a strong young woman but also very determined. Keep dreaming and never stop dreaming because you are an inspiration.
Let's connect.

Estefanía Cubillos Nova
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Thanks!

Jill Langhus
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Hello, Estefania,

Welcome to World Pulse, and congrats are in order!! Wow! What a powerful, first story you have and what an amazingly resilient person you are. I'm looking forward to seeing more posts from you, learning from you and also find out about your next adventure and goal.

Hope you have a good weekend.

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Dear Estella,
Welcome to World Pulse, WILD Sister!
And congratulations to your story awards.
Your courage and resilience shone through as I read your story. You are an inspiration to many out there. I can imagine the impact of the WILD training on your life and goals.
I hope you get to find gainful employment soon. Keep writing and keep winning.

Olanike Adesanya
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Congratulations to you, Estefania on your many Leadership attempts and achievement.
Surely, take believe there's ability in disability.
May God continue to be with you and in your endeavours.
Kudos to you.
Lots of love.

Estefanía Cubillos Nova
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Gracias por estos mensajes tan fraternos y maravillosos!

Samuel Jr
Dec 04, 2021
Dec 04, 2021

What a wonderful, inspiring story. Estefania, I enjoy hearing about athletes accomplishments, but what you have succeeded in doing outshines and transcends them. Blessings on your continued growth in your vocation, activities, life and Love!!!

Estefanía Cubillos Nova
Dec 04, 2021
Dec 04, 2021

muchas gracias!

rebecca.tang
Dec 05, 2021
Dec 05, 2021

Thank you for sharing. Your story is very inspiring. I can feel you are strong, powerful and courage. Really appreciate your commitment to help other diable women and girls. Everyone can make contribution to the community regardless their gender, race, age, disable or not, etc.
Be strong! Keeps inspiring more people.
May Almighty God bless you and all disables in the world!

Wusufor
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Hi dear,
Congratulations! I loved your picture very much. It's depicts the freedom you have reached in live.
Take care!

Grace Iliya
Dec 15, 2021
Dec 15, 2021

Congratulations on your story award dear Estefania. You are courageous and strong, looking forward to more of your exploits.

Much Love

girlpower Dide
Dec 15, 2021
Dec 15, 2021

What a wonderful story, when i saw you came to Eugene Oregon I realized I could have met you, I am from Eugene and know the people that do those conferences, I worked in service with people with developmental disabilities as director of the Independent living program with twenty clients who lived in their own apartments, me and my staff supported them in learning independent living skills, helped with food shopping, banking, medical appointments. After twenty years I was forced to retire at 53 when I got Multiple Sclerosis. It was ironic that I had gone from helping the disabled into being disabled myself. But something good came of it, I found my old journals from when I first moved to Oregon and when I lived in the Wallow Mountains doing timber inventory, living in a camp with other foresters, I soon became known as the queen of the comeback, as the men in the crew would tease me relentlessly. Twenty years later I sat and read my journals and thought these would make a good book, and wrote a book called "The Eve Chronicles" by Diane DeVillers. Without getting MS i never would have had the time to write the book. I had learned how to navigate through disability challenges and used those skills to get my powerchair, walker, and wrote grants to the MS Society to help pay for my swimming. I have a half-paralyzed leg and have a foot brace to keep me from tripping from foot drop. My life is good and my MS hasn't progressed beyond the right leg issues, fatigue and pain from hauling my legs around. My life partner helps me with transportation and support that helps me cope with whatever will come in the future. I enjoyed your story and followed you. Next time you come to Eugene, we should meet.

girlpower Dide
Dec 15, 2021
Dec 15, 2021

PS i also have a story in this disability story telling look for mine under girlpower