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Walking the extra mile
It’s hard to imagine the amount of heartache and pain Amrita Gyawali experienced to get to where she is. In 2010 she garnered fame as the first wheelchair model of Nepal. She has also worked as Project Coordinator at Karuna Foundation. Rojina Adhikari interviews the courageous lady and learns about her struggles and strength.
When you look at Amrita Gyawali you can clearly see resilience in her eyes. She has faced what most would consider an unbearable sentence and yet triumphed without fuss.
Born in Nawalparasi, Bardaghat, Gyawali was just three years old when she lost her entire family in a bus accident. She sustained multiple injuries including to the spinal cord which confined her to a wheelchair. Two years after the mishap her uncle brought her to SOS Children’s Village. Even though she was all by herself and in poor health condition, she embraced this turning point in her life and forged ahead.
Amrita joined school but it wasn’t easy. Most of her classes were on the top floor and it was a big challenge for her to take the stairs. Besides her health compelled her to miss classes often. She then consulted with the school faculty and began to self-study. She would only appear during examinations and yet people repeatedly discouraged her with negative remarks. She presisted and was able to pass the SLC with good results and later completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology
“I became very depressed and dispirited. Having no friends and family, the feeling of guilt and culpability emerged. I used to question myself as to why I was still alive. But soon I started counselling and joined higher studies. I regularly attended class and found myself surrounded by many good friends. The feeling of melancholy disappeared and I built courage deep within,” Gyawali recalls.
In 2010, one of Gyawali’s friends posed her the idea of modelling. “I was very interested. However, we were confused as to how to go about it. We then approached CyberSansar.com. They were positive and helped me build a portfolio,” she reveals.
After getting positive response from the online portal, having 40 photographs published, Gyawali was featured as the first wheelchair model of Nepal. She event modelled at a ramp show organised by the Namuna College of Fashion and Technology. “Although modelling really boosted my confidence, I am not too sure if I want to pursue it further. I wanted to devote myself to the development sector and advocate the rights of people like me,” she reveals.
The next turning point in Gyawali’s life was during her visit to the zoo where she noticed that there was no wheelchair accessible toilet. She conducted a study and found out that all sixty public toilets were not accessible by wheelchair. “Before going out, I abstain from eating or drinking so I don’t need to answer the call of nature. There have been incidents where I left in the middle of an event with the urgency to urinate and could not find a wheelchair accessible washroom around.It’s not only toilets, structural barriers are present at every step for people in wheelchairs, from ATM machines to roads,” she asserts.
This realisation led her to write an article in a daily newspaper which received much attention.
Gyawali began striving for change. She actively participated in many personal and menstrual hygiene programs by Water Aid. She began working as Equity and Inclusion Consultant at Water Aid and left the SOS hostel in Naxal. She began living independently, doing her own chores and managing her household along with her work.
At the SACOSAN Conference at SAARC Summit 2014, she put forward a presentation about the challenges faced by physically challenged people. Her presentation pushed the government authorities to take steps as a way forward.
In 2015, Gyawali joined Karuna Foundation as Programme Coordinator. She got the chance to attend a leadership course in Kanthari, Kerala.During her studies she designed a project named ‘Embrace The Change’, aiming to change the mindset of people about disability.
Through this project, she has done several media sensitisation programmes and recently released a public service advertisement campaign.
“We are forced to focus on our disability keeping our abilities aside. There are supportive policies and laws for the rights of disabled people but the implementation is vulnerable,” she shares.
Currently, Gyawali is looking at universities to pursue a Masters degree in development studies. “Tribhuwan University has the subject of my choice but it is very difficult for me to travel so far. It is not financially practical for me to travel in a taxi every day and our public vehicles are not wheelchair friendly,” she rues.