Polio did not put a brake on my life

131017_gufwan2By Ayuba Burki Gufwan, a polio survivor and founder/director of Beautiful Gate Handicapped People Center in Plateau State, Nigeria. Launched in 1999, Beautiful Gate has built and distributed more than 6,000 tricycle-type wheelchairs to polio survivors in Nigeria and neighboring states.

I was born in a tiny village in Plateau State, Nigeria. My mother had lost two babies before I was born, so when I came along everyone was very excited. I still remember faintly playing around with other kids. At the age of five, I came down with polio.

Tricycle wheelchair recipients at The Beautiful Gate Handicapped People Center in Jos, Nigeria

Tricycle wheelchair recipients at The Beautiful Gate Handicapped People Center in Jos, Nigeria

I don’t know what happened or how I lost my legs. Even to this day, it is not accepted in my family that it was polio. My mother thought that some evil men had bewitched me. In Nigeria as a whole, a lot of people don’t see polio as a medical condition.

My father was told that some Americans had come to set up a hospital where they could restore the legs of handicapped children and he took me there to have me enrolled for this healing program. They enrolled me in school. After three years, he came back and asked “when is my child going to walk.” They told him, oh no, we can’t do anything about him walking, but we will keep him in school.

When he heard that, he was discouraged and disappointed and he took me back from them because he considered it a waste of money to send a handicapped child to school.

But at the age of 19, my uncle built a tricycle wheelchair. That was a turning point in my life because it restored my hope, my dignity, and put me on the path of progress once again. I went back to school and completed primary and secondary school. I couldn’t get into law school right away, so I attended a teacher’s college and earned a teaching position. That same year, I got into law school and trained as a lawyer.

In college, some of my lectures were on the fourth floor. There were no elevators and no ramps. I had to park my wheelchair and crawl on my hands. Sometimes the facilities were overcrowded and you needed to be fit to work your way inside. People would enter through the windows. As a result, there were courses I was never able to attend.

That changed my entire orientation. Previously I had thought I would be an advocate for the disabled. But I discovered that the number one need of all people crawling on the ground was to have mobility. This is the foundation upon which you can build any kind of rehabilitation effort.

I met Dr. Ron Rice, a retired American pastor, at a workshop for educators in 1999 and he took an interest in me. He helped me raise funds for Beautiful Gate. At that time, there were just two of us making wheelchairs from whatever parts we could get, but with his help, we grew. Then in 2009, Rotary members came to Nigeria on a National Immunization Day and visited my shop. We eventually put together a pair of grants from The Rotary Foundation that involved 24 clubs on five continents and we were greatly able to expand.

In Africa every name has a meaning otherwise it is not a name. The name Burki means to apply the brake. It was given to me when I contracted polio. They said “this boy would have been a great child but this polio has put a brake on his success.” Whatever task I was given, I put double effort into because I wanted to prove them wrong. The name motivated me to work harder to prove a point that polio did not put a brake on my life.

This is the latest in a series of blog posts from polio survivors, experts, and volunteers working alongside us to eradicate polio, in honor of World Polio Day 24 October. Find out how you can make a difference by:

9 thoughts on “Polio did not put a brake on my life

  1. ‘Once there is a will there is a way’. Good lesson on courage and a symbolization of how to ‘Engage Rotary…..Change lives.
    Rotn Ademola Idowu,
    President, Rotary Club of Ibadan, Jericho- Metro, Nigeria

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  6. I love riding my bike. I remember the day so vividly when my parents game me a bike. It wasn’t my birthday, For no reason I was given a bike. Every night after dad was finished with the milking he would have me come to the top of the hill by the barn. I could sit on the seat and just let my legs hang and coast down the hill. After a few days I could put my feet on the pedals and just coast. I was also stricken with Polio at the age of 6 1/2 months old. My family took as much joy from me learning to ride that bike as I did. I was about 8-9 years old. A green bike that gave me so much freedom. I understand how all the Nigerian children felt to be able to do something that everyone else could do. I have since changed to a three wheel tricycle so that I feel safer. Now at age 66 I use my bike as many times a day as I can. I tipped over last summer on my two wheeler and now I just don’t have the courage to try again. It took me two months to be able to walk without pain in my left hip after that fall. Thank goodness i did not break anything. What a wonderful gift you are giving to so many deserving people. Keep up the good work. Let the wheels turn.

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