23 September 2017
Demola Adeleke, 24, is one of the 285 million people in the world estimated to be visually impaired according to a World Health Organisation, WHO, report.
In this piece, JAMES OJO chronicles his birth, challenges and determination to change the world’s perception about the physically challenged.
They must have probably been in a spin. Two kids, two girls, no boy, it looked like an all-girls affair for Mr. Sulaimon Adeleke and Mrs. Atinuke Adeleke, before he arrived as the only male child. Their joy knew no bound for having such a precocious chap, being in a clime where the male child is largely preferred to their female counterparts.
His name is Demola Adeleke. Like every child, he had dreams, aspirations and hopes while growing up. “Growing up to me was the same experience every child would have: being cared for and protected by parents, being sent to school, belonging to a peer group, and learning about God through the teachings of the holy book orally from the elders,” he told Cerebral Lemon.
“I once fantasized becoming a doctor or lawyer someday just like any kid would,” he added.
Everything looked promising. No fear. All hope. And the stage was set for Demola, a native of Oluyole Local Government Area, Ibadan, Oyo State in the Western part of Nigeria to actualize his dream. He enrolled at Christ Foundation Nursery and Primary School, Olorunsogo, Ibadan, keeping the momentum.
A fate so cruel
At 7, just when he began showing glimpses of his potentials, he was diagnosed by a doctor, of having some eye defects and then it all started. His courage started giving way to fear and it seemed his world was crumbling.
“One unfamiliar experience I had was the eye defect that struck me when I was seven and because of that, I couldn’t see the chalkboard directly and would have to depend on friends notes before I could copy mine. I would get mocked over my bad sight at times if I had a quarrel with my classmates and that made my growing experience a bit problematic when compared to that of the able-bodied children,” he said.
Notwithstanding the odds, Demola managed to keep his head straight, showing rare courage. He left Christ Foundation while in primary 4 for Popson Kiddies College, Olorunkemi, Ibadan, where he completed his primary school education.
Determined to stick it out with his dreams, he proceeded to Popson international college where he had his JSS1 to JSS3 before writing an entrance exam into Wesley College of Science, Elekuro, Ibadan, where he was supposed to have his SS1 to SS3 as a science student. Unfortunately, he dropped out of his dream school when he couldn’t cope again and enrolled at Adeniran Memorial Grammar School, Ogbomoso, Ibadan where he later completed his Senior School Certificate Examination, SSCE.
All I could think of was to kill myself
All this while, Demola had had the hunch he might lose his sight completely one day. He told Cerebral Lemon, “While I was growing up, I was always expecting the worst from my waning sight and I Knew a day could probably dawn when my sight will vanish finally because my eye problem kept deteriorating every day. So I never put my interest in the future since I knew my life would be a waste once I cannot see again.”
And in 2009, his conjecture was right when the doctor gave him the saddest news of his life. He was diagnosed of Glaucoma – a group of eye diseases which result in damage to the optic nerve and vision loss.
There are 4 levels of visual function, according to the International Classification of Diseases -10 (Update and Revision 2006) namely: normal vision, moderate visual impairment, severe visual impairment and blindness. Globally the major causes of visual impairment according to WHO include: Uncorrected refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism), 43 per cent, unoperated cataract, 33 per cent and glaucoma, 2 per cent.
“When I heard it from the doctor that my eyes had gone really bad and cannot be redeemed, I felt like the heaven together with all the heavenly bodies in it were all on my head. I cried bitterly and my mum followed suit. I thought the end had come and I was going to stay indoors for the remaining days of my life. I once heard someone say “‘once a person’s eyes go blind, the person can never go to school again’ and that was the memory, the first memory that came to my head when the doctor broke the news,” he told Cerebral Lemon.
“I would lock myself inside my room throughout the day and weep profusely. Everything around me was completely dark and the only thing I could think of was to die. I started making out plans on how I could kill myself after like a week or two of receiving the saddest news of my life so far.
“My siblings weren’t around at that time, they were all in school. So once my parents had gone off to work, I would get the knife from the kitchen and try to stab myself but I wasn’t finding that method easy at all, so I resorted to trying out the preparation of a poison, using the black-content in dry cells mixed with water, but I wasn’t bold enough to drink it either.”
Living in a world of no rays and shades
Explaining his new experience, the native of Oluyole took this reporter on a ride into the world of the visually impaired: “I live in a world of no rays and shades. Black is the predominant colour in my hues. No sun nor stars up in the sky, no beam of light here in my life. In the separate world where I live, palms and ears serve as our eyes, hopes and dreams keep us alive. Go have the day and the night is mine. But no single spot will mar my pride. In this blind world where I live, labeling and stigmatization have crawled my way. Someone told her about his blindness and she stopped being his friend.
“Removing him on Facebook was the next she did. A world so dark, so chill but nice. This world is full of life, no mourns nor cries. Tell me what you’ve got in there that my world lacks. Romance and love, all in my cart. I’ve experienced a lot in this my world. Asking a helper for my name as if I’m deaf. All these I hate, the blind are sane. We lost our sight, no fault on brains.
“In my world where no routes are visible, a toddler walks better than the adult blind. Just grip my wrist and take me through the clouds. For the ground harbours stones, shrubs, thorns and sands. In this small world where I live, beauty isn’t in the eyes of the beholder. An ugly face but beautiful voice already wins the game. For we believe good tone is in the ears of the listener. So deep down the depth of my heart. I see your face on the shines of my cardiac walls. Telling me all I have around are strictly beautiful people. Beautiful enough to expand this waning smile on my face. I have no bitterness in my soul, just have a sip of my blind chronicles.”
Long walk back from exile
Demola tied his rise from depression to the painstaking efforts taken by his parents, three siblings – Damola, Omolara and Folashade – as well as his friends.
His words: “My parents later found out my attempt of committing suicide through a pastor that saw a revelation from his prayer. I was later counseled against losing hope by my parents, siblings, my girlfriend at that time and also some close relatives.
“How I overcame the challenges is something I can’t really remember clearly. But I can say my girlfriend at that time was very supportive and encouraging in spite of everything and which really helped me in holding my shattered heart together. Also, my parents and siblings really stood by me and tried as much as possible to grant every of my request.”
He continued: “I started composing songs out of idleness and later graduated to a song writer and singer. My dad would give me money to go to the studio and record my songs. All those helped in dissolving my sadness too. I was later persuaded to go for rehabilitation so that I can get acclimatized with the world of the blind and also start school again. When I got to the rehabilitation centre, I met other blind students who could already read and write using the Braille.
“I also heard from them that a blind person can as well go to the university to study any courses under the arts department and since then, I became determined to not only finish with my secondary school education but also to proceed to the university to study just like the remaining of my friends. All those ambitions and determination filled up my mind and compressed the depression which had for long been in my heart since I got blinded by glaucoma.”
New dawn, new vision
After his ordeals, Demola is now bent on doing two things. One, to change the perception of people across the world about the physically challenged and two, to prove to the world that the physically challenged also has something to offer the society. One of the ways through which he does this is in writing inspiring poems on his Facebook series called Blind Chronicles.
Explaining what the series is all about, he said: “Blind chronicles is the name of a series I post on my Facebook account periodically. It is aimed at enlightening the public about the world of the blind, what it feels like to be blind, our challenges, experiences, ability and also to change people’s negative notion about the blind to something positive. Many people only see the blind on the roadsides, begging for alms without knowing a blind person can be a lawyer, doctor, journalist, writer and so on. So blind chronicles is meant to sensitize the public against all the misconceptions held as regards the blind.”
Beggars on the upswing
A WHO report stated that 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision worldwide. According to the report, “about 90 per cent of the world’s visually impaired live in low-income settings; 82 per cent of people living with blindness are aged 50 and above. Globally, uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of moderate and severe visual impairment; cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness in middle- and low-income countries. The number of people visually impaired from infectious diseases has reduced in the last 20 years according to global estimates work. Eighty per cent of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured.”
According to a National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey in Nigeria conducted in 2005-2007, “1.13 million individuals aged 40 years are currently blind in Nigeria. A further 2.7 million adults aged 40 years are estimated to have moderate visual impairment and an additional 400,000 adults are severely visually impaired. 4.25 million adults aged 40 years in Nigeria are visually impaired or blind.”
Like in most developing countries with widespread poverty, the rate of visually impaired persons in Nigeria thronging the streets, highways and places of worship to beg for alms is on the increase.
But Demola is out to show there is more to life than that. He is currently a final year student of Mass communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, showing the world that truly: there is ability in disability.
“My dream to be successful. In addition, when I see some foreign movies or read some stories written by foreign authors, I get so inspired and challenged. I will spend time pondering on what could have broadened their reasoning to have created such beautiful works of arts. So I’m always dreaming to do something worth pondering upon by people too someday.” he said, explaining what gives him motivation.
Winning the fight
“Demola is proving everybody wrong that what the able can do, the physically challenged can also do such,” said Adamu Micah, his friend and class representative at the university.
In the same vein, Ms. Edith Ohaja, his Lecturer at the university quipped: “Demola is not the kind of disabled person who evokes pity. Rather, his demeanour, accomplishments and aspirations inspire other youths to aim higher and do something meaningful with their lives.”
“I was pleased to learn that I would be supervising his final-year research project. Why was I pleased? Demola consistently makes A’s in his courses. He just needs someone to read the questions to him and he neatly types out his answers,” she added. “He always refused every pity and attempt to proffer unnecessary help that results in awarding low pass grades just like is done for other visually impaired students,” according to another lecturer who does not wish to be mentioned.
Now 24, he is blazing the trail, proving the world wrong, setting records, inspiring the world and giving hope to those with disabilities. Demola is an RnB singer and he already has three singles namely: “Folashade”, “Omo Mummy” and “Darijimi”.
Advising those with disabilities, he said: “Those sharing the same disability as me need to exhibit their native potentials for the world to see. Don’t get shy for being blind. In fact, blindness can be a source of your relevance if well harnessed. The society must accept us and regard us as being significant whether they like it or not!”
When asked his dream for the future, he said: “In the future, I want to be the first to write a movie script as a blind Nigerian that will be admired all over the world. A movie like Titanic is evergreen. I want to be reckoned with such a great movie or movies. I want to write interesting and fast selling novels, especially romance and horror. I want my name in the head and mouth of many, so help me God.”
With many years on his side, his best obviously, is yet to come.