Dorathy Osaronu is a marketing graduate from Rivers State University who is currently in a wheelchair after contracting polio as a child. She tells GODFREY GEORGE that she doesn’t allow her condition to define her
Was your childhood difficult as a disabled girl?
My growth has been good. Other than seeing other people walking on both feet and being confined to a wheelchair, I was fine. At first, to be honest, it was heartbreaking. My dad was too good to me. I had everything I ever wanted. It was so obvious. If I wanted something, my father dropped all other requests and took care of mine first. I always had the best. Even though I endured so much pain going from hospital to hospital, I managed to live my best life.
There was also the issue of stigma. Everyone could do what they wanted and get away with it because they knew my condition. When I went to school, my classmates clearly showed that I was different.
Were you born with this disability?
It started when I was two or three years old. I had polio and it affected my legs.
Did the reaction you got from your classmates as a child have an effect on how you perceive life now as an adult?
Oh my! Often I felt really sad. My dad is the King of Onne Kingdom in Rivers State and based on that fact people thought it was a little easier. But I still have people laughing at me with the way they look at me and asking me about what happened to my legs and stuff. When I was a kid, you know what that did to me? But I tried to prove that I was okay. Deep down I knew how I felt, but I’m happy for my support system, especially my dad. He always made me feel like I was and am special. As an adult now, looking back, I would tell you it wasn’t easy. One thing that has made my adulthood enjoyable now is that I’m bold.
As a child, I had many children around me because of my money. I was a rich kid so even though some laughed at me, others were always around me. Maybe that’s why I managed to get out of it. I didn’t really have any stress about making friends maybe because of the money. I also come from a large family so I have had genuine love from people who truly love me for me and not for the money.
Were there times when you had hope to still walk on your feet?
Yes! I went to several hospitals as soon as the problem started when I was three years old. We have tried many interventions. We did many physiotherapy sessions. At one point I started to walk but not straight. I was using crutches though, but later it got worse that I had to use a wheelchair. I even visited bonesetters to see if they could help. You can imagine how painful these sessions are. It was 2005. They had to massage my legs, use different ointments, dig up the ground, bury me inside and cover me above my waist. I remember that every time the bonesetter came, I started to cry. After all these interventions and things didn’t work out, I just decided to accept my fate. It was terrible. Going through all these procedures, at one point, made me depressed. I am a better person now. I am a queen of positivity now.
You have this very happy lifestyle from your photos online. How did you manage to maintain this disposition despite being in a wheelchair? What gives you this inner peace?
Growing up, I realized that I couldn’t change anything about being in a wheelchair. Being in a wheelchair is not a death sentence, and life can happen to anyone, so I just chose to be happy for myself. I also had family who supported me. My friends also supported me a lot. I am a giver of joy, the life of the party. Sometimes it’s my friends who remind me that I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t even remember (that I’m in a wheelchair). I live my normal life. If I want to go out, I have people to help me. I have a driver and I could go out in any car I want. It wasn’t even about having it all. I’m just actually a very positive person. I realized that I had so much to offer. I’m a very smart girl, a beautiful girl and I have so much to offer the world, so why would I mind being in a wheelchair?
While studying marketing at Rivers State University, what challenges did you face?
College was terrible. I graduated in 2014. The university had a lot of storey buildings, so climbing stairs was very difficult. I even went to school in Onne because my father didn’t like me to be alone. So every day I went from Onne to RSU. You can imagine the stress, traffic and everything. It was very far. I woke up before 5am and started my trip. When I got to school, it was another fight. Almost all of our conferences were upstairs. I have friends who supported me to help me up the stairs. As I was being helped up the stairs, all eyes were on me. Because a month after starting school, it was as if I was not like the others. They always looked at me with disdain. Being physically disabled is like a taboo in Nigeria. People look at you like you don’t even deserve to be with them. They look at you like you have leprosy. What really helped me, I want to emphasize, was the fact that I was a rich kid and had a positive mindset. I also do my best to pack myself very well even if I was in a wheelchair.
Did the speakers give you any form of preferential treatment because of your condition?
Not really. They do not have. Some professors in my department were a little considerate. There were some when we gave conferences upstairs, they would mandate people to go and take me upstairs. It wasn’t because my dad was rich or anything, it was just because they were human. I mean, I don’t have legs. You are not going to consider if na you? I had a few lecturers insisting on help before class could begin. It was just for the good of humanity.
Were there times when you felt like you couldn’t go on because of the challenges?
I almost gave up. Sometimes I woke up in the morning and going to school made me tired, especially since I was coming from Onne. My father always told me that education is life, and I was very attached to going to school because I believe that school would change my life. I really believe in education; that’s why I was serious about school.
Why did you choose marketing?
I wanted to study law originally because my dad is a lawyer, but I just thought about the stress of going to law school and wearing white and black everyday and decided to go into marketing. I just felt that life revolved around marketing. I wanted to do a course that would make me employable and monetizable. I always intended to work and earn money.
Have you opted for the national youth service?
Of course I did. I was working on my exception when I woke up one morning to find my name was on the NYSC portal. I was assigned to Bayelsa State. The year of service has been stressful. When I arrived at the camp, they redeployed me to Port Harcourt. When I was in Bayelsa, they were so scared for me; my father called me every day. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me at all. But I believe that there is no way not to need help in life as a person living with a disability. People help me a lot. My case is that I am chubby and therefore it is also difficult to move around. There are times when my strength would fail me and I would need help.
Being a privileged person, how did you know that your friends were actually real friends? You thought they were there because of the money?
I used to feel that most of the time when people came to make friends with me, because I was driven in a nice car to school. But I think I have the spirit of discernment. When people come around me, I just know people who are real friends. I had friends with whom we ate together. I chose friends who didn’t want to bother me for money. When we want to eat, everyone pays for their own meals. I have friends I buy food for, but I know they don’t follow me because of the money.
Were there times when certain friends made comments and you couldn’t believe it was coming from them?
Good, I also have a bad mouth. I don’t let the things people say get to me. There’s that street saying that goes, “You can’t shame the harlot!” The only thing you can say is “Dorathy has no legs.” But that same Dorathy is prettier than you and can buy anything she wants. Sometimes my confidence may seem rude, but I’m not; I’m just a happy person. We normally joke around but I can’t quite imagine when one of my friends said, “Dorathy, I pity you because you have no legs!” No. You can’t say you’re helping my life.
Your wedding would have one in May this year. How did you meet your husband and how did you know he was made for you?
I met my husband in 2009. I took my WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate Examination) at his father’s school. His father is also friends with my father. So that’s where we met even though we weren’t close because we were still young. Fast forward to 2019, then we met again. He just called me one day that he wanted to buy one of my products. Later I found out he had been my Facebook friend and didn’t even notice. I didn’t take it seriously. After I sold him the product, he started asking me personal questions and told me he was close to me. That’s how we started, and now we’re married. We got engaged in 2020 and got married in 2021.
You know what it’s like when you marry someone you really love. It gives my parents the peace of mind that I was with their friend’s child. Love is just a beautiful thing.
Did you have any other relationships that didn’t work out before him?
I don’t want to talk about that. It’s personal. I had people but it didn’t work out.
Did people say certain things to your husband when he wanted to marry you?
I heard many things o! People wondered why he wanted to marry someone who had no legs. Some said I was up to 70 years old. But he didn’t listen to them because he knew he had married for love. He knew I was a spec and we had a happy marriage.
All rights reserved. This material and any other digital content on this website may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without the prior express written permission of PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]