Ashok, physical therapist at the NDF Rehabilitation Center in Kathmandu, makes her do tiring exercises. She should learn how to improve her balance and how to keep her limbs strong and supple. But Reema keeps on smiling, even when he puts some extra weight on her stump to reinforce the muscles of her thigh.
"I’m the luckiest girl in the world’, Reema says. ‘I can go to school without any problems, I look like my friends, I walk like my friends and I dance like the stars."
Reema was born with phocomelia, a rare birth defect that caused the absence of the middle part of her left lower limb; Reema’s foot was attached to her knee, which made it impossible to walk without crutches. Her father died when she was young and her mother couldn’t cope with her child’s disability. Reema was six years old when, one day, she found herself all alone in the house. Her mother had left with another man. The neighbor brought Reema to an orphanage in Kathmandu Valley.
Reema was well cared for by whom she calls her mother and her brothers and sisters. She went to school, but not without difficulties. The distance between the school and the orphanage discouraged her. She felt that she was limited in her movements because of the crutches. She even had difficulties to stand upright. And she realized that others thought she was odd-looking. ‘People stared at me all the time. I wasn’t happy and I had a very negative vision of the future.’
But what made her feel really sad was the fact that she would never be able to dance.
Early 2013, she shared her story with a local journalist who wrote an article on the girl who dreamt of becoming a dancer. The story was picked by Handicap International Nepal. A community disability worker of Handicap International supported rehabilitation center went to the orphanage and brought Reema to the rehabilitation center for an examination.
After that, progress has been really quick. Reema got surgery; her leg was amputated so that she would be able to wear prosthesis. She got physical therapy and learnt how to walk with her new leg.
Today Reema is a girl who cannot stand still. She’s full of energy and it looks like every move she makes is a dance move. ‘I practice every day, from early in the morning till late in the evening’, she says. ‘My brothers and sisters sing and make music while I dance. We have a lot of fun.’
She loves going to school and she studies hard. English is her favorite course. And for the first time in her life, she can say she loves gymnastics. ‘I run better than some other girls’, she chuckles with a playful wink.
The icing on the cake was the dance competition this summer, exactly one year after her amputation. ‘I was second’, she says with sparkling eyes. ‘Before, people stared at me because I was , now they look at me because I am a good dancer.’
And off she goes, hopping blithely to her girlfriends on the playground.