By Sunita Basnet
My name is Shristi KC and I was born in Bhaktapur, Nepal. I am the youngest sister of my two lovely brothers. I was not born blind. I got an eye allergy when I was 14 years old. However, the optometrist prescribed me the wrong medicine after the eyesight test, which shouldn’t have been used for a long period of time, which I did.
As a consequence, I developed glaucoma. My family took me to many hospitals but nothing happened. In the initial phase, I thought it was a temporary one but by the age of 16, I permanently lost my vision.
It took me a while to accept that I was blind, I was in denial. My family members, including myself, were in complete shock. It made me extremely insecure and I started doubting myself and wondered if what people were saying was actually true. The society also contributed to my pain by commenting such as “I wouldn’t have a career now, I wouldn’t be able to work and that my life was completely over.” Some of my good friends left me out. They stopped talking to me and contacting me.
The reaction of my society and the frustration of my family, however, became the source of my inspiration.
I gradually developed self esteem, thinking that whether I lost my sights or not, my feelings and thoughts were same. I was the same person. I wanted to change the perception about the disability and make my family proud. I was different, but I was not stupid. I decided to never let my blindness be an excuse. I convinced myself that I only missed my sight. I have hands to work, legs to walk, brain to think and mouth to speak. What do I need more? I started exploring positive aspects of being visually impaired.
Continuing on with my education was the biggest challenge of all. I was aspired to get college degree, but private colleges refused to admit me in their institutions. They tried to define my life saying “she is blind how can she study?”.
Luckily, I was able to join Kanya Multiple Campus, in Dilli Bazar Kathmandu. Initially, I faced many challenges. The college was far from my home and I had to use public transportation which are overcrowded, and often driven by reckless people. I also didn’t know how to use the white cane at first, and had to learn slowly. Every day, my parents were worried sick and wondered whether I would return the home safely.
I was the only blind person in my class. At first I didn’t know how to read braille nor were there any college books available in braille. I was gradually losing my confidence because I was not able to read and take notes. I then requested my friend to record the class lectures which I repeatedly listened to during the breaks and at home. I then created this wooden board with carved holes representing the English alphabet; I would put paper under the material, feel the alphabet with my left hand and write with my right hand. I could read and write again, and I gradually improved my skills.
After losing my sight, I got the vision of my life. As I couldn’t see, I realised I wasn’t getting distracted by visual things and could therefore concentrate more. I was never first in my class before losing my sight, and I never came second after losing it.
I scored first position in Tribhuvan University, the public state owned university in Nepal, Proficiency Level Humanities and Social Science Faculty and received award from the president of Nepal. I also scored the highest marks in Bachelor Level Nepali Literature and received a gold medal from the then Prime Minister of Nepal.
Also, I love dancing. As a child, whenever I would hear a song I would immediately get up and start dancing. I wanted to continue dancing even after losing my sight, but none of the dancing institutions wanted me to join. Some would say I was not able to dance without a tutor, whilst others would ask for a higher fee; obviously I didn’t think it was fair to pay an extra fee just because I was visually impaired. Dance is all about your creativity and imagination, and I should have been allowed to dance. Given the circumstances, I decided that if no one wanted to teach me to dance, I would teach myself.
I went to Kerala, South India to attend a seven month course to become a social visionary at Kanthari International and started developing activities for my organisation—Blind Rocks! ‘Blind Rocks!’ is all about rocking your blindness—I wanted my shocking life to be transformed into a rocking life. I turned out to be happy in my life and so I thought, why not bring this happiness into other visually impaired people’s lives?
‘Blind Rocks!’ hosts multiple workshops and trainings like dancing, interpersonal skills, public speaking skills, disability campaigns, and beauty and fashion workshops. We also go for rafting, paragliding, and rock climbing expeditions. The pivotal purpose of Blind Rocks! is to change the way people and the media portray people with disabilities who are usually portrayed as weak, and helpless characters. We have nine executives, and five of us are visually impaired. Besides India, I have been to Russia, South Korea, Hong Kong and recently have been offered European Union Scholarship for my Master of Arts in Dance Studies where I will be travelling various European countries in each semester.
Every life is different but I expect to be identified by my character rather than by my disability.
I always say that being blind is like being a diamond; whenever people see a diamond, it instantly catches their eye and they get attracted to it. It’s the same with blind people, people are so curious about us. But just like how all people cannot afford a diamond, not everyone can accept disabled people. That’s not our problem—it’s their problem.
Another advantage is that my disability acts as a filter of people; for example, if I ever get lost and say “Excuse Me?”, I notice that only good people would come close to help me. Therefore, I never have to deal with ‘bad’ people.
It’s not possible to drastically make the society friendlier towards ‘differently able’ people, but if only the attitudes towards disability could be more positive, it would be a huge step forward. Undoubtedly we can only amend some things from our side; the government can also play a fundamental role. Awareness campaign, facilities and quotes for disabled people can really make a difference on how we are inserted and accepted in society.
I want to further develop ‘Blind Rocks!’ and start an international Arts school, mainly for blind and disabled people. We will see where this journey will take me….
Listen to Sristi’s song here.
Sunita is a Ph.D. candidate in the Human Geography programme at the University of Waikato. Her current research investigates place-based experiences and feelings of (not) belonging amongst Bhutanese women and girls living in New Zealand under the third country resettlement programme referred by UNHCR. She is also a member of international organizations such as One Young World and World Pulse. In 2010, she was honoured as International Women’s Health coalition (IWHC) Young Visionary Award. In the same year, she received the World Pulse Citizen Journalism Award. Her area of expertise includes qualitative methods, gender issues, women’s empowerment, migrants and refugees studies, home spaces, identity and belonging. She has been working in various women-related organizations for almost a decade.