Life in a nut shell , I have always been one of those people who rarely speak of one's own life and struggles on social media or anywhere. Mostly because to people every step I take is inspiring or motivating. That itself takes it's toll on you.
Slowly in life, you become known as the disabled person, an inspiration and everything else, until eventually, by some, you are seen as a human, and very rarely as a woman. But I do sometimes realize how a disadvantage in life has the power to change lives of so many others for the better.
So with that in mind, here is my life story. I am Arti Devi (Yes, that's my real name), from the rugby nation Fiji. I have a birth defect known as Spina Bifida which impacts me physically. It's not a disease and I most certainly don't suffer from it. But it does put me in the "disabled" category.
My amazing parents did everything they could back in the 80's to hopefully get me treated but that never happened. So they decided to give me the best gift they could ever give a disabled child-- The gift of education and Independence. They enrolled me in Korociriciri Primary School with other normal students, back in the days when inclusive education was not a thing. I remember the head teacher, who accepted my admission based on the guarantee of a muslim female teacher, that she would be my caretaker. And she was like a mother to me. My mother cried on my graduation from primary school.
I went through an interview with the principal of Vunimono High School before my enrollment there. I will never forget the accommodations they made for me so that I could be as productive as any other student. My mother cried again on my graduation from high school!!
University of the South Pacific was a whole new level of difficulties in my life. In fact, those were the hardest few years of my life. The physical difficulties were a pain but the financial difficulties my family went through hit me daily like a ton of bricks. I decided to study subjects that women rarely study in Fiji. Studying while you are physically tired is not easy either.
I remember walking from one class to another and reaching the lecture room covered in sweat. Feeling my heart beat so loud and my head feeling the thumping pressure. My hair used to be tied up and covered in sweat as if I had just come out of the shower. Then there were those glorious days when my right foot would scrape along my shoe all day. Skin and blood would come off and it used to be stuck to the shoe when I would take it off in the afternoon. I can still feel that sense of relief I felt when the shoes came off daily. Used to hurt like hell, but I am sure it hurt my parents more than it physically hurt me.
I remember once my shoes wore off and my feet were numb. I didn't feel a thing when I walked and the concrete scraped through the skin of my thumb. Or when the buckles of my shoes continuously scraped through my wound. Bandages didn't help. I call all those scars my war wounds. I don't like the marks on my skin but they are a reminder of my struggles.
The next day, you wake up, bandage the damaged foot, leave home by 6 am and do it all over again. While of course studying after reaching home and hurting like crazy all over. My Ma and Pa had to buy me shoes every week and when that became too much then we smartly found a guy who would fit thick iron to the soles of my shoes to help it from wearing off quickly. My walking scraped off those pieces off the shoe bit by bit.
My parents and sister were my heroes and saviors through my entire experience. I had the best help and support, so I was destined to succeed. And after years of physical and financial torture, I graduated with a BSC in Mathematics and Computer Science. And on this day, my father cried...
My undergrad is and will always be one of my toughest and proudest achievements in life. My career started as a research assistant in Anthropology. It was a reminder of how important vernacular education was. That job had nothing to do with my degree and everything to with my primary school level Hindi.
After that, I joined a beverage company as an IT intern under an incredible leader who I will always respect for helping build my career. This was where I found out what freedom, independence and inclusiveness truly meant. I ended up with an incredible team of young people who treated me like any other human being. For once, I was really a human!
After 9 months of internship, I became a help desk assistant. Didn't bother me one bit. I didn't aspire to become great in one day. I loved my degree but I wasn't hungry to become big or earn big. I wanted to learn and master and for that you start at the very bottom. I enjoyed hardware and software support equally. It didn't bother me to crawl under desks to fix UPS or PC towers. (wouldn't want to do it now though!) It was also during this job that I decided to study independently, with my own hard earned dollars.
So I started my Postgraduate Diploma in IT majoring in Computer Science. Only to be offered a big internal project. So I took it. A challenge is always fun. Resuming studies after 4 years and a project I didn't know most things about....what could go wrong? Nothing actually!
After a lot of hair and weight loss, I came out successful in both. On the day final postgrad results came out, I finally cried. Nothing but relief and then I chose to skip graduation. Because the achievement didn't feel enough. I felt that more could be done if I tried. Thus my enrollment in the Masters program.
Now, I work as a Business Intelligence Analyst, in the same business, under an equally incredible leader and team. I am two steps away from completing my Masters in Computer Information Systems. I still aspire to learn and master what I do.
That's life in a nutshell. It's never been easy, still not easy and probably never will be. The hardest thing I do in life daily is to put my feet on the ground and walk. What makes it worthwhile are the people who love me, who helped me to be where I am today. My parents, my sister, my teachers, my classmates, my friends, workmates and well...take a guess, fill in the _______.
So maybe, if it helps anybody, then sure, use my life to inspire or motivate you. But remember, I am a human first. I am also the 1% statistic of educated disabled woman in the world, and not just any....I am the disabled woman in Technology!
I have my own career, I pay my own bills, I live my life on my own terms. I live as proof that disabilities don't matter, if you have the support and will to do exactly what you want to do in life. I decided, at the age of 13, that I would study Computer Science, and here I am, doing exactly what I wanted to do.
My life's achievements will always be dedicated to my parents, who spent every last cent they had, to educate me and my siblings... who sacrificed a lot in their young lives and faced financial ordeals for me. While people ate good food, my family cut costs and ate tinned fish and egg curry to save money.
I didn't wear fancy clothes to University. My mother sewed my clothes herself. Some skirts were made from her old Sari's. She wore nothing but cheap clothes to weddings herself. My Pa worked extra hours, went off to islands for weeks, put his body under immense physical strain... all to earn some extra money that could keep everyone's education going forward. My sister didn't get the luxuries her friends got. We didn't have the fancy tech gadgets. Just an old computer. Nothing but love and respect to the kind of family that every human deserves.