In 2003, Parveena and Bashira Ahmed were returning from their rice plantation in Kashmir, India with their four-year-old daughter, Shaista. Suddenly, a truck came hurtling down the road and plowed into Shaista. She was immediately taken to hospital in Srinagar, where the doctors prepared her family for the worst: “She won’t live,” they said. She had seven operations on her head, neck, arm, and leg. She begged them to inject poison into her leg to kill her and end the pain. The doctors refused to give up. A week later, Shaista left hospital alive, but her right arm and left leg had been amputated.
The years that followed are long and painful. Shaista stayed at home with her three brothers and grew up in the shadows. At school, she was often discriminated against: “They called me ‘handicapped," she remembers. " They used to say: ‘you’re useless’ or ‘you’ll never find a husband’.” Shaista was unable to walk or play with the other children.
When she was ten, Shaista was fitted with her first prosthesic leg. However, it did not help her much: “It was too heavy and I couldn’t walk with it.”
Then, in 2011, Handicap International, in partnership with Hope Disability Center, set up a rehabilitation camp near her the village to provide care to people living in this remote region. Shaista visited the camp and was provided with rehabilitation to help her regain her flexibility and ability to walk. She was also fitted with a new prosthesis. In 2015, she was given two new prostheses: one for her leg, and another for her right arm. “That made a really big difference to me," says Shaista. "I feel more independent, but above all, my disability is less visible. People stare at me less."
Today, Shaista is sitting next to her father. She didn’t pass her last exams, so she needs to study at home and take them again in a month’s time. “It’s not easy," she says. "I don’t see as much of my friends and I’ve got lots of other things to think about. And sometimes I can feel blood pressure in my leg which is very distracting."
“School from home, it’s complicated,” says her mother. “We want her to succeed, but it’s not easy for her to keep motivation. In the meantime, she helps out around the house, looks after the vegetable garden, and cooks. My husband and I work hard. We’ve got four children and the medical bills are very high. We live in a single room in Shaista’s uncle’s house, and we have to count every penny. We’re lucky to be able to rely on support from Handicap International. We couldn’t manage without it.”
The organization’s physical therapists monitor Shaista closely. “She has grown again,” says Muddasir Ashraf, disability manager of Handicap International in India. “We’re going to take her measurements again soon to fit her with a new, better adapted prosthesis that she’ll get this summer.”
Shaista gets up. She greets her friends who have come to see her. The girls laugh and chat. Her mother watches them. “When I see her, all I want is for her to get a stable job, so she can be independent and happy. I want her future to be easier than the childhood she had.”