32-year-old Mariama Njie used to be an active mother and housewife until one sunny day when she was at home, watching her prime time TV show. It was a week to her 21st birthday when the trauma from her worst nightmare changed Mariama’s life entirely. From the woman happily walking in her Farato residence, Mariama Njie became an amputee.
Now a teacher, Mariama said her misfortune started when frequent squabbles and fights with her husband became the routine life in her marriage.
“I was watching TV when it happened. I didn’t get injured, but I was feeling pain all over. I said to myself, ‘let me put my baby to sleep because my baby’s daddy was not the kind that helps babysit. After watching TV, as I prepared to go to bed, I could barely stand up. I couldn’t move, and my leg began getting swollen. And suddenly, I was vomiting blood. As I tried to breathe, it got more swollen,” Mariama recounts.
Overwhelmed by the pain and suffering from her leg, Mariama was rushed to Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital.
“I don’t know how it all happened, but I kept calling Allah’s name when I was put on that operation bed, on Friday 23rd April 2010 at the EFSTH.”
When Mariama woke up from the surgery room, she realized that she was amputated. Since then, Mariama uses an amputee-stick to help her walk from one place to another.
“As for orthopedic support, I only received that when I was at the hospital. Like body exercise and training to know how to move with the crutches since they know I’m not too fond of wheelchairs. That’s the only support I got.”
Mariama’s husband left her after the amputation when he confessed he couldn’t continue staying with the wife.
“It changed a lot. Being a new mother, I couldn’t even have the chance to carry my own child… It was something I was eager to do. I keep telling people that if I have my own child, I will not be a person who would disturb people to take care of my child for me. My mother did it for me, and I want to do it for my child. But, the amputation changed all that and brought down my chances of doing business for my mom. It changed a lot,” she said.
The hardship of life never spared Mariama.
Mariama lost her father when she was just 3-year-old. As a result, she didn’t have the chance to get to know her dad better. The responsibility of the house was later placed on her mom’s shoulder, living with her mom and stepfather, together with her siblings.
“I remember that my late grandpa used to call me “My kilifa” (My wise one). And when I asked him why he would call me with that name, his answer was ‘I know you would be a responsible person someday’”.
Mariama compensates for the hardship from her handicap with the love of her family and relatives. She was fortunate to get a sponsorship to further her studies at the Gambia College after her amputation surgery.
“While in college, my daughter was under the care of my mom. Then, during my third year semester, my husband left my baby and me,” she said.
Mariama is a teacher at Busumba and Farato Lower Basic schools, where she teaches English and Science, regardless of her disability.
“In my neighborhood, people think that walking with crutches, you can’t do anything or you shouldn’t have responsibilities. So I do schooling and have this ‘Dara’ in our neighborhood where I teach and get paid D2000 every month to beef up my salary. But recently, things are on hold because I was having a problem with my other leg, and I have to drop it”.
A new call and advocate for the physically challenged in The Gambia
Mariama wants to tap from her experience to be a voice for physically challenged persons. She also works with the Gambia Federation for the physically challenged. She is currently trying to set up with a colleague an organization that would support the plights of the differently able. However, financial support is impeding their ambitions.
“I want to see a change in the lives of the differently able people, change in something they really want. So let their voices be heard and for the government to help people with disabilities to have specifically adapted workplaces, where they can be employed,” Mariama argues.
Her strength is devoted to obtaining affirmative actions from decision-makers to give more opportunities to physically challenged Gambians.
“Where you have able body people working in places, the percentage should be more for the differently able people, be it the hard of hearing, the visually impaired, the amputees, the albinos or the hard of speaking people. Let the government help us with a place where something could be manufactured or made, a skill center where we can work and earn something for ourselves to eradicate more of the street begging. Countries like Ghana, Tanzania have things like that, where you have the differently able people producing and doing something in the most accessible way”.