“Even though part of me is disabled, I am able” – Irene Laker
In the early dawn of August 28th 2002, Irene Laker left her home as so many of us do to begin the day. As she walked down her neighbourhood in Pece as she had done countless times before, her life changed instantly and without warning…
The next thing she knew she awoke in a hospital bed several days later, in pain and confused. As she scanned the room to survey her surroundings she made a horrifying discovery. The lower half of her leg was completely missing.
Irene had stepped on a landmine.
According to a national survey conducted in 2007, approximately 20 percent of people in Uganda have disabilities. However, the percentage of persons with disabilities in northern Uganda is believed to be higher due to war-related injuries and limited access to treatment or vaccinations for illnesses.
Like countless others in northern Uganda, Irene had fallen victim to the violence of the 2o year long insurgency perpetrated by the atrocious rebel group the LRA, or Lord’s Resistance Army. Not only did she lose her leg, Irene felt as though she lost her confidence and independence. Moreover, through circumstance alone she would be forced into the arduous battle of marginalization, stigmatization and lack of accessibility that is fought by so many persons with disabilities in northern Uganda. “I felt as though it was the end of me”, expresses Irene in reference to her initial feelings after losing her leg. “I became depressed. I use to be tough, proud. I was not feeling so after it happened”.
However this was not the end of Irene, it was simply a new beginning. Through her incredibly supportive family and friends, her faith and her determination Irene would continue to live her life, and live it well. “My family, friends and my church were with me since the hospital, even till now. I knew I would be ok.” Irene was fortunate enough to receive a prosthetic for her missing limb, an assistive device that is unfortunately seen as more of a privilege than a right for persons in need of such support. Although adjusting to her limited mobility was difficult, Irene refused to adjust to the societal stigmas of persons with disabilities in northern Uganda.
Irene Laker helped to from the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors Group in 2003
In 2003 Irene, along with some close friends and fellow landmine survivors, formed the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors Group which officially launched in 2005. Since this time Irene has been serving as a voice in her community for women with disabilities, tackling such as issues as gender based violence and advocating for more opportunities for women with disabilities. She currently serves as the Treasurer of the Gulu Women with Disabilities Organization.
In addition to her roles as an advocate and treasurer Irene is also a mother of two. Shortly after losing her leg Irene’s husband left. A cruel reality in northern Uganda is that it is very common for men to leave a woman if she is disabled or develops a disabling injury. When asked if she could ever think of such a case when a man has stayed with a woman who became disabled Irene paused silently, contemplated, and gave the heartbreaking answer of “I have not seen”. Despite the complete lack of involvement from her former husband, Irene’s support network is very strong and she raises her children with the help of her brother and sister. She found work as a hairstylist, a job which she loves as it allows her to be social in addition to making women look as beautiful as they feel.
Irene works as a hairstylist and loves her job. Here she is straightening the hair of one of her many valued customers.
In her personal life Irene remains very active and refuses to limit herself and her experiences on account of having one fully functioning leg. “Even though part of me is disabled, I am able”. Her favourite pastimes include playing inclusive sports such as wheelchair basketball and handball with many of her close friends at theGulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU). Not only that, Irene is an amazing singer! I can attest to this as I am privileged enough to hear her sing every day on my walk to the GDPU office. She has yet to take me up on my offer of touring Uganda as a ukulele/singing duo.
Given Irene’s situation it is hard to imagine how most of us would react. It could have been easy to retreat into self pity and depression, submitting to the notion that one’s fate is controlled merely by chance and circumstance. However, Irene is happily living her life in a way that she chooses and is encouraging the same for other women with disabilities. When thinking of her story of courage, self determination and freedom I believe an excerpt from the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley sums it up best,
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”
I am honoured to know Irene, and I am honoured to call her a friend…even if she will not form a ukulele/singing troupe with me,
Until the next blog,
APWOYO MATEK (thank you) and peace
Next Blog Topic: Basketball Jones: Changing Perceptions Through Public Demonstrations & Sensational Crashes! (title pending)
Posted By Dane Macri
Posted Aug 29th, 2012