In February 2014, I got involved in a car accident that left me paralyzed and with a severe disability. Having lived quite an active life before my accident, I experienced some difficulties adjusting to my new life. Some days I had to try hard to find my will to live because I did not feel like living the rest of my days on a wheelchair, being bathed and fed was the kind of life I wanted to live. The first year was the worst, that year the air was thicker, the days were dull, and it seemed like I would never find joy again. I spent most of my time in bed staring at the walls and ceilings, I made peace with the fact that things would probably never change.
By the time I got to my second year, I started seeing the possibility of a life different from the one I had been living. More importantly, I was re-introduced to hope and its power to look positively at life. Suddenly, it felt like I was living rather than just existing. I could feel a change not only in my mind but also in my injured body, I had more energy to do things that thought I would never do again.
By the time I got to five years post the accident, I had gone through a complete metamorphosis; what was once wounded had now received healing and more importantly, light had taken the place of darkness. What is more important? Working legs or peace of mind? Both? Well, to me I figured that my peace and psychological wellbeing was paramount to any other challenge I was experiencing. As long as I was in sound health, I was okay being on a wheelchair. But this epiphany did not come overnight, it was as a result of many years of hurt and soul searching. It was then that I made it my responsibility to help others get to a place of peace where they could accept themselves and renew their hope, disability isn’t a curse.
“Strong Spine” became the words that defined me. Initially, it was all about creating awareness, giving information and sensitization about disability and how possible it is to live a full life with the right attitude and support. As time went on, I realized that more needed to be done beyond just giving information. I had to actively get involved in solving the problems that my peers were experiencing. Mine was a humble beginning which included raising funds for wheelchairs, diapers and even food. Having experienced how expensive disability can be, I knew that any kind of assistance would contribute positively to a person’s life.
After doing a few projects I felt the need to do something more meaningful and ambitious. It was an idea that came to me because I wanted to show my peers with a disability that we can look after one of our own without running to other sources of assistance as we mostly do. Pulling together towards one cause is a powerful thing, the more I did the earlier projects the better I understood the human desire to care for each other. People have hearts of gold; they just need a worthy cause to direct their energy to.
Joseph Kahuho is a 26yr old I met on my birthday. His legs are severely deformed after suffering from polio since he was a child. Due to financial constraints in his family, he was never able to access the treatment he needed. His condition worsened over time and he got used to living a life full of difficulties. When we met, he was living in a small mud house next to his older brother’s house who is his caretaker. The brother himself has eight children, therefore, resources have always been scarce. Despite this, Joseph had the biggest smile I had ever seen.
Behind the big smile, however, was a man with little confidence in himself. He had been born in poverty and he believed that life wasn’t going to change for him. He would grow old in his muddy house and his children would live in a mud house too. I resolved to mobilize my friends to build him a bigger better house, one that would change his life and that of his family forever.
It took me three months to raise the 170k I needed for Joseph’s two-room iron sheet house. It was the most money I had ever had in my possession. But I knew it wouldn’t have been enough. I needed something more valuable than money, I needed comrade power. With the help of the amazing young people from that community, we built that house in a record four days. It was the most stressful time of my life because we almost went broke but, in the end, the house was complete with a concrete floor and electricity. The first tv to owned in that homestead and a life was changed.
I take a lot of pride in what we need as a unit. A group of different people coming together to help a brother who couldn’t help himself. Essentially, what we did was more than just build a house. We built hope; a belief his life didn’t have to be marred by difficulty and challenges. That it was possible to catch a break and live a good life. The struggles of life can be quite limiting, they might lead you into believing that tomorrow is going to be just as dark as yesterday was. But all you need is a spark of hope to show you all the possibilities that lay ahead.