Chilaka Adaugo, a final year student of the University of Port Harcourt who lost one of her legs to an accident at age 10, told The PUNCH she hasn’t allowed the situation to keep her down
Briefly tell us about yourself.
My name is Chilaka Adaugo; friends fondly call me Cindy. I am 22 years old. I am a final year student of Philosophy at the University of Port Harcourt. I should be in school now but for ASUU strike. I am from Imo State.
What informed your decision to choose Philosophy as a course of study?
I didn’t actually choose Philosophy as my course of study; I wanted Law but UNIPORT offered me Philosophy. I took the course and found out that it is really interesting. Philosophy is such a course that has opened my mind, making me engage in deep conversations and probing many life questions. It has given my life some kind of deeper meaning in some ways, which I find incredibly interesting.
How was childhood like for you?
I grew up in Imo State with my parents. I am the first of three children in my family – I have two younger brothers. Growing up was fine until age 10 when I lost one of my legs. That upset a lot for me. It was always so heartbreaking seeing my peers doing things I could no longer do because of my condition. I could no longer participate in cultural dance and some other interesting physical activities and that was really painful for me as a child. But I was lucky to have some good friends who always put a smile on my face. My friends showed me love and never made me feel bad.
How did you lose one of your legs?
I wasn’t born with disability; it started in 2010 when I was in Primary Six; I think I was 10 years old then. I was used to my dad always coming to pick me from school; so on that fateful day, my dad came with a bike man to pick me up at the close of school. On our way home we had an accident; a car hit us. The bike man survived but my dad and I were badly injured. The accident happened close to a hospital and it was a Good Samaritan that rushed us to the hospital.
I was injured below the knee. My dad also sustained an injury to his knee and up till now, he still sometimes complains of pains. My own injury was the worst. The doctor in charge checked my leg and ran some tests. The following day, the doctor didn’t come to the hospital. They said he needed to attend to some issues. Within two days, my injury got really worse. I was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri. The doctor that attended to me said the situation was bad and said the only option was to amputate the leg. He said if the leg was not amputated my parents might end up losing me. So, we had no other option than to get the leg amputated.
How did your family support you growing up?
My parents tried their best to support me in every way possible, emotionally, financially and all. In spite of my condition, they didn’t stop sponsoring my education. My mum is a fruit seller while my dad is into business – he sells household items in wholesale.
Have you ever faced any form of discrimination?
Well, it has not been easy, honestly speaking, but I have been able to accept myself the way I am. I remember back when I was in primary school, I had a teacher who always encouraged me. That helped me to accept myself the way I am.
There are also foundations for physically-challenged people and attending their programmes, I have seen lots of people that are also in the same situation, and that gives me a lot of encouragement.
Many times I take good pictures of myself and do dance videos just to make myself happy and it has attracted friends to me as well.
What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had in UNIPORT?
When I think about my school experiences, there are many things that come to mind. It’s been a mix of good memories, bad memories, mistakes, lessons, happiness, heartbreaks, misfortune, joy, drama and most importantly fun. I learned many valuable life lessons as well as made lifelong friends. I learned the value of hard work, dedication and also how to tell your real friends from the others. Most of the good memories involved my good friends and most of the bad memories involved just me.
Are you in a relationship?
Yes, I have a boyfriend and he has been lovely and good to me; he takes me out too, not minding my situation or how I look. In fact, whenever we go out, people are always staring at us and commending him for not feeling ashamed to be with me. People are always telling me he likes me.
But there have been some people who tried to take advantage of me. But I know where I am coming from and I wouldn’t mess up my life.
Can you give an example of an occasion when someone tried to take advantage of you?
There was a time I visited a supermarket to get groceries. I met a guy and we started a conversation. He offered to pay for the items I purchased. After paying he asked for my (mobile phone) number; but I told him I don’t like giving out my number like that. He pleaded that I should give him my number, so, I changed my mind and gave him my number. He called me later, saying he wanted to know more about me.
He asked me about my family background, what I do and all. After I told him about myself, he said he would like to support me with whatever he had but I had to show him appreciation in return. When I asked him what he meant, he said the appreciation he wanted was to have an affair with him. But I told him frankly that I don’t do such. So, he said if I couldn’t do what he wanted, he wouldn’t also be able to offer me the help he had promised. I told him that was fine and that was how it all ended.
As a final year Philosophy student, what are your after-school plans?
My ambition after school is to get a good job, move out of the (Imo) state. Be an entrepreneur because I have two wonderful skills – I am into makeup and hairdressing – and become successful at it.
I will try and have an understanding of who my true marriage partner is before tying the knot, understanding how to raise children, who will be good citizens, good friends and good partners. To be happy always; not to depend upon anyone financially. Also, I hope to do my master’s degree because first degree is not the end of learning.
The ASUU strike has been on for months now. How have you been keeping yourself busy?
I engage myself with some handiwork; I make hair and do makeup to make some money. Also, I love dancing despite having one leg. I dance on Tiktok whenever I am bored.
I never knew my Tiktok videos would go viral; it was something I started doing to catch some fun whenever I felt bored. But surprisingly, the Tiktok videos went viral. I have been seeing them being shared everywhere; even my friends are always tagging me to Tiktok dance challenges.
You dance so well in the Tiktok videos. Is dancing really that convenient for you?
It’s been 12 years being in this condition. I can stand for a while without holding my crutches for support. I can stand like that for a few minutes. I do feel some pain but it’s nothing much.
Do you think you may become a professional dancer, seeing how your Tiktok dance videos are being well received?
I don’t think so because to make a profession out of dance, one needs to start early. This is important because it can take years to develop the muscle, strength and techniques needed. You don’t need any qualifications or university degree to become a professional dancer; what is needed is training.
What advice do you have for persons living with disabilities?
Well, for people in such conditions, it is not really easy. Sometimes, when I go out, the crowd would have their eyes on me and it can be embarrassing. My advice to them is to love themselves first and accept the way they are.
Do you think the government has done enough to make people living with disabilities have a good life in the country?
The truth is that the government is not really helping matters in terms of giving support and building social amenities that people living with disabilities can use. For example, in my school, UNIPORT, there should a special hostel for the physically-challenged people. I used to be in a hostel where I shared a room with five other students. Also, there is just one general toilet and bathroom for everyone. And being a general toilet, it can be easily messed up. And when it’s messed up like that, the floor becomes slippery and for someone on crutches like me, it becomes dangerous. In fact, I once fell down in the toilet because the floor was slippery and I got injured.
So, I think social amenities should be provided for people living with disabilities.
How can someone living with a disability live a life of purpose?
You need to accept yourself because people will not accept you when you’ve not even accepted yourself.
What advice do you have for parents of persons living with disabilities?
Parents have to cheer up; I know it might look so difficult, but they just have to try. Using my mum as an example, most times she is always thinking about me but I also try to put a smile on her face and encourage her that all will be well.
My mum once asked me jokingly when I would like to get married and we both laughed about it but I know something must have triggered that and a lot is definitely going on in her mind, for her to have asked me such a question.
I remembered there was a time my mum had an issue with someone who mocked her that she ought to be ashamed of herself for having a daughter with one leg. The person said she was so sure her daughter would never get married or have children. In all honesty, my mum felt so bad.
I also remember when I was a child, during my graduation from primary school, some parents and my mum got so emotional looking at me in that condition that they could not hold back tears.