THERE IS BEAUTY IN EVERY DISABILITY
Helen Halima Makama is the face of Kpankpando foundation 2017. She was born in Jos, plateau state thirty six (36) years ago by Mr. Danlami Makama and Mrs. Anna Bankat. She is from Jos South L.G.A. and the only daughter in a family of six, all her siblings are boys. She attended Patmon Nursery and primary school, Narayi, Girls High School Gindiri, Jos 1994-2000, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, 2001-2007 where she acquired a degree in Urban & Regional Planning. She was enrolled in the mandatory NYSC in 2008. She is a member of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP). The face of Kpankpando Foundation in 2017 and recently her reign was extended to 2019 because the competition for the face of Kpankpando Foundation did not hold in 2018 because the founder of the foundation Senator Osita Izunaso’s mother died few days to the anniversary of the foundation, which normally ushers in a new face of the foundation.
Queen Helen is a renowned disability advocate and ambassador, one of the pioneers of the recently passed Nigerian disability prohibition bill (a bill that is expected to be established by UN member countries in furtherance of UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)) which awaits the assent of the President. She is also propagating the SDGs, Vision 2030 for mainstreaming people with disabilities in these programmes.
In this interview, she shares with us how her disability occurred, her achievements as the face of Kpankpando Foundation and life aspirations.
TQ: Do you recall how and when your disability occurred?
It was exactly on May 9, 2009 in Gwarinpa during my youth service in Abuja. I was in a car with friends and my friend who was on the steering lost control of the car, the car summersaulted severally, the other two of my friends died at the spot, I survived with severe injuries. I had internal bleeding and a crack on my spinal cord, the resultant effect was that I could no longer walk and I was rehabilitated to be using wheelchair.
TQ: How did you, your family and close friends take it after it was confirmed that you will be on a wheelchair?
It was a disaster to me because I never dreamt of having disability. It was disheartening to my family and close friends. I was full of thought on how to cope with it. Then people started looking at me with a lot of pity, it was discouraging. There were some friends who stayed away from me. It is only when something like this happens that you will know your true friends. My family was confused at first but they later understood that the only option was that I have to be rehabilitated, and start using wheelchair. Then we became positive and look forward for a better future.
TQ: Do you face discrimination and stigmatization thereafter?
Actually, the kind of discrimination I am facing is people looking down on you, some people will see and just pass without any recognition simply because you are on wheelchair. There are perceptions like how am I going to cope, how can I perform my feminine duties and again some use derogatory words while describing me.
TQ: What are the challenges you face in performing your duties as a town planner?
As a town planner, I have to go the site. Unfortunately, my wheelchair can’t access the site locations so I limit my work in the office using the laptop to analyze land usage and drawings. But if I must visit a site, I normally rely on my colleagues to do the site work for me and thereafter we do analysis together.
TQ: Is there any measures that can be put in place for you to visit site just for work fulfillment?
You know there are different site locations and at different times. Nothing can be done about that but for worst scenario, if my presence is needed at the site, I will get there with a HILUX van. Come to think of it, accessibility problem poses the greatest challenge to us living with disabilities in Nigeria. As a town planner, I noticed that we have pedestrian bridges without ramps, shopping malls without ramps, numerous public buildings without ramps, no side walkways on our roads and many more places that lack disability friendly facilities.
TQ: Can you share with me some of your achievements so far?
In the course of my work as a town planner, I worked as a team in planning a layout. I ensured that the malls are designed to have ramps for easy access for people with disabilities. As the face of Kpankpando Foundation, I was among those who pioneered Nigerian Disability Prohibition Bill that was passed by National Assembly and has been transmitted to the President for his assent. The bill if it became law will address so many challenges faced by people with disabilities in Nigeria. There will be penalty for discriminating against people with disabilities in the area of employment, political participation, etc. and it will be unlawful for any public building not to have disability friendly facilities.
TQ: I learnt that you are the face of Kpankpando Foundation, what made you stand out among other beautiful and qualified ladies?
We were 12 of us that contested, 2 from each geopolitical zone. It was not actually about facial beauty but more of your understanding of disability issues and your passion about the plights of people with disabilities and your charisma. I think these were majorly what the judges considered because your duties as the face of Kpankpando foundation is advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and also execute programmes that geared towards assisting them to realize their potentials.
TQ: what are the benefits associated to “Face of Kpankpando Foundation”?
It provided me with a platform to speak for 27 million Nigerians with disabilities which has always been my passion.
TQ: What is your thought about The Face of Kpankpado Project?
I will say that it is all about beauty in disability, it is not necessarily the physical beauty but about those challenges in disability that are surmountable. As the face of Kpankpando foundation, you are exposed to formulation of programmes that will offer direct action to the needs and care of other people with disabilities. For instance, through the project, scholarships has been awarded to some people with disabilities, some have been economically empowered, health insurance scheme has been secured for some people, there has been advocacy drive to see that the rights of people with disabilities are upheld through the bill pioneered at the National Assembly and there has been an advocacy for government to allocate certain percentage for people with disabilities in the area of employment and encourage the private sector to do same. Employment of people with disabilities will go a long way to alleviate their sufferings, we have 27 million Nigerians with disabilities, which is one third of the entire population. If they are properly engaged, we will be winning the poverty war and the impact will be tremendous to our economy.
TQ: What will be your fulfillment at the end of your reign as the Face of Kpankpando Foundation?
To see that people with disabilities are being employed after graduation. To see that Nigerian Disability Prohibition Bill became Law.
TQ: Are you in a relationship?
I am single, some men are calling me claiming that they love me but I am being careful.
TQ: Having been able to shake off your disability, what advice do you have for other people with disabilities?
The challenge of your disability should not deter you from your dreams. We can achieve anything and even help people who are able, just be positive and creative. Always understand that any challenge that comes to you is temporary. We all have talent, discover what you are good at and do it diligently.
TQ: State of Nigerians with disabilities, is it declining or improving?
A lot of NGOs have been speaking on the issues of disability; holding workshops and seminars with little impact on people with disabilities. We now need action plans that will have great impact on the lives of people with disabilities directly, because with all these talk shows, it seems that an average person with disability is getting poorer.
TQ: Security and economy, how did they affect people with disabilities at this time?
Those of us from the north central and north east who are always confronted with these problems will tell you that the chance of survival of persons with disabilities during these attacks is very slim. During attacks, people are running for their lives, we can’t run and nobody will remember to help us. So, you are at the mercy of the attackers. On the part of economy, it has been most unfair to us living with disabilities, especially high cost of transportation. We pay more on transport because we can’t use the cheapest means of transportation, most of us have resorted to taxi (popularly known as drop). A journey that will cost other #50, will cost us #500 to #1000 meanwhile we have slimmest opportunity to means of livelihood. High cost of living affects us more. Corruption has affected us also because resources meant to provide for us and put facilities in place to make life easier for us has been diverted into private pockets.
TQ: Your Career and other life aspirations?
I want to be a philanthropist. I have plan to go back to school for my masters and thereafter establish a town planning firm because I want to be financially suitable before establishing an NGO. I have seen that some NGOs are having challenges because the founders are not financially balanced before setting them up, therefore, when they get funds, they will have little to show for the funds they got because some of funds goes into their personal needs.
TQ: Parting Words?
I want to thank the publisher for giving me the opportunity to speak out through this medium. As election is approaching, I call on our members to come out and exercise their franchise. Vote wisely, vote for those who will promote our cause. People should learn to live in peace, we should rise above corruption, ethnicity and religion. We should concentrate more on our similarities like economic issue because price of things is high and they are the same everywhere. We should be more concern about those issues that will address our well-being as a people.