I had only heard of Nafisa Khanbhai and her charity work through friends and family, and only seen her photos on social media. Her non-profit charity work gives the assurance that 100% of all donations reach Uniquely Abled individuals in need of previously unaffordable needs such as wheelchairs, education, and food.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nafisa for the first time; as I waited patiently in the living room of her family home, out came this beautiful lady. Her photos do not do her justice, by the way. She was a big ball of fiery energy and perched gracefully on the sofa. Mesmerised by her aura, I just had to know her inspiring tale.
Nafisa was born with a birth defect where the spinal cord fails to develop fully which is known as spina bifida and a tough decision had to be made by her parents. As Nafisa says, "the doctor told my parents that he was going to operate on me but that he could save only either the top half or the bottom half of my body." Her father asked for the top half of her body to be saved and thus began the baby's journey.
At the age of nine, Nafisa ended up with damaged kidneys and was given medication. Due to the family's unstable financial situation, she had to wait nine months for surgery, and has been reliant on urostomy pouches ever since.
Discrimination and bullying were always present in the life of this beautiful soul and at school her "friends" isolated her for wearing nappies before the surgery and the pouches afterwards. She faced prejudice because of her condition and did not fit into the "normal" category. Added to this, her parents were always reinforcing the idea that she could not have a normal life, and to toughen up. "How was your mental state at this point? Were you undergoing therapy?", I asked. With a huge smile she answered, "I was not depressed at all, in fact I was mentally strong. You see, I could either feel sorry for myself or be strong." Despite having good and bad days, this outlook has given Nafisa a tough cookie image and allows her to face her challenges head-on.
Nafisa's journey has been tough, and every situation and experience has been a lesson. "What about love?", I ask. She replies, "What about it? I didn't want to tie anyone down to me and my condition but there was this man who wouldn't take no for an answer, so I was in a relationship with him for a few years and he saw first-hand what was involved, but it didn't work out in the end." She then decided not to waste time on potential disappointment and to work on her sole purpose of being of service to others.
Photos provided by Nafisa
The birth of the organisation 'Dear Diary Initiatives Kenya' was a result of the play "Dear Diary" written by Nafisa and based on her own life to raise awareness of the challenges she faces on a daily basis. On the first day of the play; she received a standing ovation and there was a full house for the next two days which gave her confidence a huge boost and she initiated the 2007 Disability Act which is now in full force in the whole of Kenya. The organisation has helped not only uniquely abled individuals but also those in need, regardless of colour or creed, and has never looked back.
In December 2017, Nafisa went on to launch her book 'Unbroken Wings' in Nairobi which is an account of her life, struggles, challenges, life path and purpose. She then relaunched the book in January 2018 in Mombasa with all the proceeds going to the charity to pay for the orphanage in Kilifi County which is being constructed from recycled empty water bottles; it is nearing completion and will soon to be ready to welcome the orphans.
"I suppose your desire to be a mother has been fulfilled by being a mother to the orphans; how does that make you feel?", I ask. "Kiran, who says you have to give birth to your own child, a part of your body, your own flesh and blood, to be a mother? I don't physically have to give birth to be one; these children are my own and by God's grace we receive the provisions to feed these children. So, from not being able to have children, to being a mother to 37 orphans, fulfils my desire to be a mother", Nafisa replies frankly. I have great respect for this selfless person, this modern-day Mother Teresa, who is bursting with unconditional love for all, never expecting anything in return.
I glance at a cabinet in Nafisa's living room filled with trophies and awards and get up and walk towards it. "Are those what I think they are? May I have a look?", I ask. I am staring at each one of them intently, awe-struck. All I heard was "Sure ...". Some of these trophies were won during her school days and some are more recent, like the MTM Award 2019 for Excellence and Achievement, the Coast Women trophy awarded in 2019 for Humanity Services, from the Saturday Club the Anant Pandya Award for Humanity Services, being on the Group Study Exchange programme sponsored by Rotary International she was awarded a trip to Zambia, a recognition from Al Muslimah, a certificate for the recognition of her work by the United Nations of which she is a member of the Board of Advisors.
"What next?", I ask. "The work is never complete, there is always someone out there who needs a helping hand to reach out and be there for them. The more we give, the more we receive to give", she replies with a smile. Many call her the Iron Lady of Mombasa for being bold and brave, looking at a challenge and winking at it with gusto and a great sense of humour.
I call her Mama Nafisa for all the kindness and compassion she shows to the Uniquely Abled and her wonderful children. We must take a leaf out of the book of her life's journey and not feel sorry for our conditions and situation but be strong and keep going like a trooper. There will be those who will discriminate against you, be prejudiced against your non-normalcy, who are here to challenge you and bring you out of your comfort zone but there are also those in the form of angels who are there to support you on this voyage of life. It is up to you to Fly with Unbroken Wings.
by Kiran Kaur