Sabrina Sultana was diagnosed with ‘Muscular Dystrophy’ very early in her life. It was a moment in her childhood that changed everything for her. Ever since then, her muscles gradually weakened and she slowly began to lose her ability to move. The problem worsened as she grew older. She had to drop out of school; she couldn’t play with the other kids in the community; she was looked down upon and rarely left her room.
“I used to be made fun of when I went out. People either took pity on me or were just irritated at my presence, neither of which I could bare. I couldn’t even be present at family get-togethers,” recalls Sabrina. These were the situations Sabrina had to face, right from a very young age. Apart from her physical problems, she had to deal with other kinds of societal problems. Integration of the physically challenged into the main stream of this country has forever been a problem. The differently-abled in this country, rarely manage to make a mark. Most of them are considered to be a burden for families and the lack of initiatives by the government adds to the deplorable situation.
Sabrina’s early-life was not very different either. Finding it difficult to lead a normal life and constantly being singled out in her community, she almost admitted defeat and at one point of time, was ready to spend the rest of her life inside the four walls of her room. However, as fate would have it, Sabrina’s younger sister was soon diagnosed with the same disease and her family was devastated. “My younger sister was the most loved one in the family. She was chirpy, excited and we all loved her a lot. I was extremely depressed when she was diagnosed with the disease. I knew what she would have to go through; I knew that society wouldn’t accept her, and I just couldn’t let that happen, and that was what made me revolt!” recalls Sabrina.
Sabrina took it as a challenge to improve the condition of the physically challenged in Bangladesh. A herculean task; considering the fact that the city of Dhaka barely supports the handicapped. However, that didn’t stop her. She was adamant and desperate at the same time and this led to her writing a letter, addressed to the prime minister of the country. She wasn’t living in ‘Neverland’ neither was she unaware of all the difficulties that lay ahead of her, she knew that the letter would never reach the PM. “ It was just something I had to do. It was just a start,” she says. It was this newly found hope in her life that made her find a new pathway.
She used the social networking website, Facebook, to connect to as many people as possible and spread the contents of her letter. She along with her friend, Salma Mahbub who suffers from Polio, decided to get in touch with people suffering from disabilities and get them all united under one banner. And this lead to the creation of a group called Bangladeshi Systems Change Advocacy Network (B-Scan). B-Scan began on 17 July, 2009 and with almost 5000 members, it’s one of the largest organisations in Bangladesh that addresses such concerns. “My aim was to help people in the society realise and know how the physically-challenged are tortured in Bangladesh, how they don’t stand a chance to succeed in life because of the lack of support. I wanted people to share their stories,” says Sabrina.
What started off as a mere facebook group went on to become a voice for people suffering from disabilities in Bangladesh. Hundreds of people from different parts of the country became a part of the group and eventually created a solid foundation. It was then that Sabrina and co. decided to launch petitions and several other missions, related to the making Dhaka a friendlier city for the physically challenged.
“We began organising awareness campaigns, protests and petitions for different purposes. From making buildings wheelchair-accessible to educating students regarding the difficulties that the physically challenged have to deal with, we covered several issues,” says Sabrina.
The organisation’s basic aims include: access to education, provision of employment oppurtunities, access to public buildings and public transport and the instilling into society a fresh value for the Bangladeshi citizens with disabilities.
B-Scan’s latest project deals with making public transport accessible people suffering from disabilities. A lot of groundbreaking work has already been done and Sabrina is hopeful that the special provisions will come into effect very soon. “Today, my sister can go to school. She studies in the Chittagong Residential School and College. The institute now conducts the classes from on the first floor as opposed to the second floor, just to accommodate my sister. If every other school can follow such similar examples then I am sure many more physically challenged students will be encouraged to go to school,” remarks Sabrina.
There’s a famous saying which states that ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’. Sabrina Sultana has faced, been through and mastered the hardships of life. She has come out charging against the cynics who believe that people suffering from disabilities in Bangladesh have no future. She has proved that the age-old proverb is not just a mere saying and that with extreme determination; one can cross the most difficult of barriers. We congratulate Sabrina Sultana for her achievement, for providing so many with a new-found hope and changing their life’s outlook. We hope that in the coming years, B-Scan brings a drastic change in the way that people understand the physically challenged in this country and that they can one day lead a livable life in Bangladesh.