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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Deaf Female Lawyer Proves That Disability Is Not A Limitation

Catherine Edeh is a deaf Nigerian female lawyer who was recently called to bar. Her story shows us the power of focus, determination and perseverance in the midst of difficulty. Miss Edeh was not born deaf but became deaf in Primary 5, following a resultant effect of a high dose of chloramphenicol injection administered on her when she fell ill.

She shared her story in a recent Punch interview, throwing more light on her determination to get an education after going deaf. Her resoluteness eventually paid off, today she is a lawyer and also runs an NGO, Voice Of Disability Initiative (VDI). Read  excerpts of the interview below:

What was your dream while growing up?
Growing up as a kid, I did not dream of becoming a lawyer. I disliked lawyers because in my naive mentality, I always pictured them as callous people who made the innocent suffer. Right from primary 3, I aimed to be a nurse; the rationale behind this being that unlike lawyers who hurt and victimise innocent people, nurses care for and cure people. I wanted to heal bodies and souls of sick and suffering people. But the devil struck.

I became ill and went deaf in primary 5. Subsequently, my family lost interest in sponsoring my education. I was asked to go and learn either sewing or hairdressing which I flatly turned down. To register his seriousness in his decision that I should leave school and go into sewing/hairdressing apprenticeship, my late dad refused to sponsor my common entrance examination when I was in primary 6.

Months after my First School Leaving Certificate Examination, I was enrolled into a commercial school because I flatly stood my ground that I must go to school, deafness or no deafness. This however killed my dream of becoming a nurse because the commercial school I was admitted into did not offer physics and chemistry.

When did you decide to take the bold step to further your education?
I have always been a strong and determined child. My family, neighbours and relatives always say I have a lion’s heart. I do not allow anything or anyone to decide who I am or will be. So when I lost my dad in my 3rd year in the commercial school, I forced myself to learn how to stand on my own because my mom was unemployed and had 9 young children to cater for. I pushed out one of the talents inherent in me for my benefit and I started braiding hair right from my home. 

The quality of my service was, and is still unbeatable. I would invent some styles, freely or cheaply braid any of the styles on any friendly customer and off they go, bringing more customers to me. Sometimes I would double, or in some cases, triple my charge/cost. Soon after, I started doing home services for big ladies such as local government chairmen’s wives, state commissioners’ wives, top bankers’ wives and so many ladies in my area. This did not in any way deter me from going to school.

Despite my speedy progress at that time, I refused to open a hairdressing salon even though I was an expert in all kinds of hairstyles. I was only saving for my education. After my commercial school and nobody seemed interested in sponsoring me to take the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination, I sponsored myself. I got myself into Federal College of Special Education, Oyo, till help started coming from my family, relatives and some scholarship bodies like Nigeria Women Association of Georgia, Gani Fawehinmi Scholarship Foundation, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, Enugu State Government, and Federal Scholarship Board, etc.

Were there times you almost gave up because of your challenge?
Yes. After I became deaf and yet to learn sign language or join the deaf community, there were times I would feel too bitter, especially after seeing some of my old playmates who at that time were avoiding me out of ignorance. When I got so humiliated or stigmatised, I would give in to self pity which bred frustration and on very few occasions, gave way to the thought of committing suicide. 

I thank God however that I did not give in to such thoughts of suicide. When eventually the divine plans of God started to unfold in my academic life, the thought of giving up for whatever reason never got entertained. My slogan throughout was ‘Winners never quit and quitters never win’ and ‘Today’s pain is tomorrow’s gain.’

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