Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disability is not inability - the inspiration that is Farida Bedwei

I first heard about Farida Bedwei when Edward Tagoe emailed our Barcamp team asking for her contacts and encouraging us to bring her to Barcamp Ghana 2010 at Ashesi. This is the news story he read. It was about the inspiring story of Farida Bedwei, overcoming the challenges of having cerebral palsy to become one of the top software engineers in Ghana and writing her own book 'Definition of a Miracle'. Cerebral palsy refers to a family of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement, posture and muscle coordination.

Speaking on Joy FM’s religious programme A Walk with Jesus, Farida said she has never allowed her disability to limit her ability. “All my life I’ve been told by my mom to remove the word ‘I can’t’ from my vocabulary and replace it with ‘I’ll try’ and so whatever I’ve done my entire life, I’ve tried and by the grace of God everything that I’ve tried, I’ve been successful at,” she said.


Farida entered mainstream school for the first time when she was 12 years old. While at Barcamp Ghana during a breakout session organized by Charles Odonkor who's at Yale Medical School, I was able to learn more about Farida. She was a participant in the session on brain power called “Declaring the decade of the brain”. She talked about how her mother did not let her condition become a limiting factor and took the time and pains to research how she could get her daughter to achieve every single dream she had. Who knows how Farida would have turned out if her mother hadn't pushed her to be special? If she hadn't forced ideas of "vim" into her head when she may not have had the "capa"?

We see a lot of disabled people in Ghana, as well as folks with mental problems. Too often, we write them off as 'mad' and don't give them the necessary care so that they can still make the best out of their situations. Disability is not inability. Farida's mother knew that. In the breakout session, we discussed how we tend to think that 'mad' people or folks with mental disorders should be prayed for so demons will cast out. These people need medical help and emotional support. Look at the stigma attached to Pantang and other psychiatric hospitals. I am so happy we have people like Farida Bedwei who can help us destroy some of these stereotypes we have of disabled people and how they can also be great achievers.

Farida recently launched her first book 'Definition of a Miracle'. She obviously is a big believer like we are in Africans telling our own stories by saying "most books about Africa are written by people who are not Africans and they give a wrong perception of this part of the world". Edward interviewed her about the book on his blog, honouring her on International Women's Day.

Edward: What is your book about and what motivated you to write it?
Farida: The book is about contemporary Ghanaian society through the eyes of a disabled little girl. I wrote this book to change perceptions; perceptions about those of us in Ghana, Africa and other third world developing countries and, perceptions about persons with disabilities. We are much more than AIDS, Child-Soldiers, Hunger and Corruption and it is about time we made this known to all. It is time we told our own stories and changed the image the rest of the world has of our beautiful continent.

There are many who equate physical disabilities with mental disabilities, and mental disabilities with lack of intelligence. Both perceptions are wrong and must be erased from the mindset of society. I always say the reason people with physical disabilities are treated differently is because majority rules. If we were the majority, the able-bodied folks would be the ‘disabled’ ones because the world would be engineered to fit our needs instead of yours.
Farida works with G-Life Financial Services. Read a review of the book on Myweku.com. Buy the book on Amazon. Stay up to date on the book and all things Farida Bedwei through her Facebook page. She is well on her way to be honoured like the many great Ghanaian women who were honoured recently as well.
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