On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we look at a student who overcame the odds to become her class valedictorian.
Sakia is a bright, artistically talented young lady whom I had the pleasure of coaching as a counsellor and who, in return, coached me to become a better person.
Sakia’s journey was fraught with many obstacles for someone at such a tender age and with the medical condition of scoliosis.
Sakia and her family emigrated from Bangladesh with hopes of pursuing the American dream. However, violence, trauma and poverty were the first things to greet them after they arrived in America.
Our paths intertwined one evening when I was conducting my art therapy class. Sakia showed impressive dedication and perseverance each day through completing her homework assignments, despite the emotional, psychological, physical and financial hardship that she and her family faced.
During our programme we sat together and worked on our painting and her homework assignments. We read New York Times articles for history class and talked about what was going on in the world.
We travelled to different countries through the power of Google Maps and we even cheated once in a while with the calculator when we weren’t getting the correct math solutions!
One afternoon Sakia shared that she did not feel that she was beautiful because she was “little”. This really distressed me as I knew Sakia was referring to her scoliosis.
She and I talked about positive body language and positive self-image. We talked about how sometimes we want to look pretty on the outside but there are differences that make us stand out - and that too can be a pretty thing to look at.
We talked about how beautiful intelligence is in a young lady and created story telling narrative of how Sakia will evolve into a superhero and change the world.
Breaking the news to Sakia that I was leaving the agency was the most nerve-racking thing that I ever had to do as a rookie counsellor.
On my last day, Sakia presented me with a picture book of all the things that she liked and we did together, so that I did not forget her. And we did stay in touch!
In June 2016, Sakia - the shy and timid young lady whom I met in my art therapy class - had transformed into her own superhero and was now fighting and conquering her own battles.
Sakia shared an invitation with me to attend her elementary graduation. She was to be honoured as valedictorian for her graduating class.
She was also going to address her entire graduating class with her first formal speech. I could not have been prouder.
As a counsellor, I knew the volatile environment that influenced Sakia’s life and I was happy to have nurtured her healing, curiosity, dedication and perseverance.
As a person, Sakia taught me that that you are more than your situation. You are the superhero of your own story.
Sakia’s valedictorian victory was won against the odds and it was also a win for many children living with a disability.