Romila Hameed – Enabling the Disabled

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Though strongest tremors of the earthquake of October, 2005 lasted only few seconds but it left a lasting impact on Romila Hameed’s life.  Her spinal cord snapped at T12, L1 Asia-A leaving her paraplegic and wheel-chair bound for the rest of her life. Her spinal cord injury was the lesser plight that she suffered in this calamitous event as she lost two of her sisters under the open sky on the same day. It was a horrible episode in Pakistan’s history but for the affectees, it was the end of the life they knew and a calendar beginning to a life of struggles.

As an arrangement between Governments of Pakistan and the UAE, Romila was lucky to be included in the group which was selected for treatment in the UAE. She underwent successful spinal cord surgery at Al-Jazeera (now SKMC) hospital which enabled her to be able to sit, albeit, with assistance, on a bed or a wheel chair. It was a definite improvement from lying flat on one’s back but coming to terms with the fact that she would have to form a lifelong friendship with the wheelchair was unimaginable. She went through a rigorous process of physical therapy and psychological counselling by Dr Garrison himself, a mentor who taught her and toughened her up so that she does not crumble under the weight of a wheelchair bound life. She did not.

The rehabilitation process was tough but the hurdles that lay ahead were the real challenge as she prepared to return to her primitively developed, reconstructed house on a picturesque mountain of Kashmir. To say that the memories of the place haunted her is only an understatement.

During her journey back on a military (C-130) plan, she reflected over a blue print of her life ahead. Bagh valley, a passage she travelled on a daily basis while going to school no longer looked the same to her and she knew she would have no means to travel in this terrain anymore. Life in a wheel chair is difficult even in the most developed cities of Pakistan, but it becomes a struggle of massive proportions, with no room for complacency and weak nerves when it comes to the unfriendly landscape of North. The first few months were the toughest, the males of family left for their daily chores and two surviving sisters and nieces for their college and school, while she sat alone reading ‘The Story of My Life’ by Helen Keller, over and over.

Romila recounted that the real problem, in these situations, is the societal mindset that holds you back. It is the people who feed you the negativity, unintentionally, that maybe you can no longer achieve what you wanted to in life. A lot of her fellow rehab mates fell victim to this mindset and lost hope as the society convinced them that what happened to them was God’s wrath for their own deeds or collective sins of the society. Immune from such thoughts, she started peer counseling in the rehab center in Kashmir. She shared her knowledge, gained due to her association with Dr. Garrison, and started the arduous task of teaching them on self-management skills and motivating them towards a well-balanced and self-contended life on a wheelchair.

It was not long before she realized that the motivation she sought for others, she had to apply it to her own self first. She had to convince her parents to move down from the mountain to a city where she could pursue her education. The convincing part was not easy as they too, did not share her enthusiasm and were under a pessimistic spell that is common in our society. Undeterred, Romila kept persuading until her family finally acceded to move to Rawalpindi, a city with relatively better educational facilities than her home town. There too, she was refused admission in many colleges, not due to lack of grades or merit but, because of being handicapped.

“I would come home every day and cry incessantly but each drop of tear made me even more determined to keep trying as I was always confident that nature has not inflicted this injury on me without a purpose.”

Finally, a personal audience with the principal of a private college got her admission and her hopes renewed. By the Grace of God, she completed six years of education with a Master’s degree in Accountancy. It was easier said than done. Imagine being in a college, for over 8 hours, with no facility what so ever for a wheel chaired student. No wheel chair friendly washrooms, toilets, ramps for movement. Even getting class schedules, which required constant movement from one floor to another used to be an arduous task. She took nothing for granted, studying late into the night, shifting from chair to bed and bed to chair, so as to avoid creating sore points was a struggle of epic proportion for her. Receiving a Master’s degree was a major breakthrough in her life.

With Accountancy degree under her belt, she set out on a job hunt. Results were disheartening at first but after endless unanswered emails and failed interviews she kept up with the job hunt. After a brief stint as an internee in a multi-national company, she was offered, a dream come true, 2-in-1 opportunity of working, as a paid employee.

Her organization helped her rise as a leader, an inspiration for others, by entrusting her a dream project in collaboration with “Aurat Foundation” under gender equality program on Enabling Women with Disabilities for Decent Inclusive Employment through Vocational Training & Women Human Rights”. The objective of the program was to motivate and train women with disabilities, on basic personal and IT skills so as to enable them to seek employment on equality basis.

During her visits to far flung areas of Pakistan, she has conducted many awareness raising sessions about disabilities, how to cope with them, conduct of communities and the rights of persons with special needs. She also advocated strongly for establishment of one spinal injury unit and one special education center in her hometown through radio and television channels. She has not only changed the course of her own life but is also working to help others achieve their dreams like she did.

“I am often asked a question that have I achieved my objectives? My response from day one has been that the journey has just begun.”


Submitted by Eman Ch | Edited by Rawail Naeem

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