Giving up is not an option

My name is Rokshana Alami and I was born in 1989 into a middle-class family in Shendand district, Herat province in Afghanistan. From the age of one, I was physically handicapped because of an incorrectly injected polio vaccine. Today my degree of disability is over eighty percent, so I have to sit in a wheelchair. However, the disability was much less pronounced in my childhood. Because of the successive wars, the long period without medical treatment, my family could do nothing to improve my condition. My limitations became greater and greater.

Despite my disability, I did not feel helpless and accepted my fate. On the contrary, I was always positive, hopeful and optimistic to continue to lead a better life and a better future. I became active and my disability made me exactly the person I started to like. It is natural that – just like for most people – not all my wishes and demands are fulfilled. So there are many there are many limitations for me in everyday life. Sometimes stairs are enough and people in wheelchairs cannot visit certain places. In such cases we become more aware of our disability and may ask ourselves more why we have to struggle with it.

I started to struggle the very day I realized the value of life. Photo: Sasha Freemind

Certainly these questions are sometimes frustrating, especially because they rarely find a satisfactory answer. It is exhausting, but it will certainly not stop us from continuing to fight. At least it is my attitude that giving up is not an option. Nevertheless, I cannot hide problems and would like to share some of them with others. In this way, the experiences I have made and publish in life can be emulated by others in the same situation. This can show them that they are not alone in struggling with such problems and perhaps even motivate them to progress.

I started to fight the very day I realized the value of life. Nobody let me go to school in the beginning. I was always sad because I wanted to learn, but nobody listened to my then childish voice. Everybody said to me: “You are disabled, what good are your lessons? If you don’t want to stay at home, then go outside. Then you will see: everyone makes fun of you and that is a shame for the family. Better stay at home!” I was in tears. I cried, I cried so much. All this hurt me and forced me to act. Despite all the headwinds, I stubbornly resisted every day. Fortunately, my older brother was there for me. He always taught me at home and also taught me to keep my resistance alive.

Finally I convinced my family with my stubbornness. I could go to school and then to university to study. At school, at university and at my later job, I was mocked by others. I felt better and yet I suffered from it. I faced this society, although I was part of it. But there were still people who comforted and encouraged me daily.

I think these were all important experiences and today I feel very strengthened. I know that if I had not seen suffering I would not have learned to appreciate life and perhaps I would never have understood other sufferers. My heart only aches when I remember too much of the details of the past. It hurts and I feel sorry for those who cannot walk but have dreams in their hearts that are choked. The most precious thoughts that I hold on to permanently have to do with humanity. At some point it should be human standard to live together without sexual, intellectual, linguistic, racial or health prejudices.

People in general must always fight to achieve their goals. Sometimes goals are reached early and sometimes a person has to fight for his dreams for the rest of his life. I was one of those people who, after a long fight, was able to continue her education. It was time to let go of the shadows of the past and move on. I thought to myself that I was handicapped in life. But it is simply a kind of illness, not a disability, and I try to make the best of it, as if the disability was just another lesson in the classroom.

This is a strength that I wanted to share with others who are affected. That is why I started working as a social assistant at the rehabilitation centre for disabled people of the “Pire Herat Fundation” (PHF) in 2005. I was active in the areas of admissions, culture, art workshops and marketing of art activities for disabled people.

We also organized exhibitions in various provinces to draw attention to our organization and its work.

In 2011, with the help of friends, I was involved in the Herat Peshgam Ladies Association. There we founded a programme for homeless and disabled women. At the same time I was in charge of several radio programmes in Herat province, in collaboration with the director of the local radio station “Faryad”. So I always had an insight into the daily problems of people with disabilities in Afghanistan. Through these programs I was able to get in contact with more and more disabled people and their families.

In the programme we dealt a lot with social issues, such as common sense in dealing with disabled people or the lack of approval of the families of disabled people for their education and vocational training. Our aim was to build a close relationship with the participants and the audience. Of course, it was important to examine whether politicians are trying to help accordingly. So I was able to present successful training and job search programmes for disabled people and to conduct many personal interviews.

At work, my good colleagues and friends helped me to realise all these activities. They made it easier for me to go my way. From my mentor Abdul Ali Barakzai and the cooperation with his wife Sana Mohseni and my good friend Fereshtah Jan Nouri I could learn many useful things. Besides work, I was also active in sports for the disabled. Mostly for one or two hours a week I visited a basketball club for wheelchair users. After finishing school I studied public administration and politics at the University of Herat.

I was accepted. In the first year I received a scholarship abroad. In my second year at the university I thought about scholarships again and after taking a special exam I was accepted by a university in Turkey. Fortunately, this time a large number of colleagues and friends as well as my older brother encouraged me to take the chance. My social environment stood behind me.

Finally, my parents also agreed, because they realized that I would have more chances for good education and work abroad than in Afghanistan. Of course, my parents were also influenced by the words of our friends and relatives who mocked me and my disability. They were against continuing my studies abroad. And when I came to Turkey, they called it the “continuation of treatment”

I then made it to Turkey despite my disability. When I arrived there, however, I had not yet escaped the concerns of the people and my other problems. I was mocked again. The cultural officer of the Afghan embassy in Turkey asked me mockingly: “Didn’t anyone want you in Afghanistan? Was there no place for you to study before, so you had to come here?” The embassy official’s ugly treatment made me take a photo of him. I wanted to fight back and let people know who the person was who treated me that way. A mistake – afterwards the embassy officials treated me even worse.

I hope that by working for this magazine, I can still make my dreams come true. Photo: Rokhshana Alamy

Because some time later I became ill and this was immediately taken advantage of by the Afghan embassy. They informed me in writing that my misconduct would lead to my return to Afghanistan and that the grant of the scholarship had expired. I knew very well that I would have even more difficulties if I returned to the country in this way. I could not go back – I was facing renewed discrimination. On the advice of my friend Fereshtah Jan Nouri, who was aware of all my problems, I decided to go to Europe. I had no chance for a visa. So I knew that I would only have a chance in the form of smuggling on bumpy country roads under difficult conditions. I took the risk, filed my asylum application in Germany and have been living in Chemnitz for almost five years now.

Before that I had not been able to attend physiotherapy for one and a half years. This weakened my leg muscles and caused frequent falls which I could no longer control. It is now three years since I used a wheelchair. During this time my mood is very bad. Nevertheless I try to forget the bitter memories until I can continue my studies and fulfill my dreams.

To this day, no one has managed to make me lose my mind, and although I suffer from not having finished my studies, I hope to make my dreams come true by working for this magazine. My story now reaches you. So I ask everyone who reads this article in this magazine to help me and achieve my goals!

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