Ready and Able! How volunteering can be your “call” in life
My name is Mohammad Sarhan and I was born in 1962 in the occupied territories of Palestine. I was born a refugee and was raised in Al Farah Refugee Camp in Nablus. During my childhood years, I was injected with what was thought to be polio vaccine; however, it turned out that I was injected with the polio virus. I was not the sole infected child; along with me were a couple of thousand other Palestinian children who suffered the consequences.
My mother was in denial and tried profusely to seek the best medical attention including physiotherapy, chiropractic, and orthopaedics. As a direct result, I went through five surgeries in attempts to rehabilitate me; nevertheless, with her moral support I felt I could accomplish anything. She was able to instil confidence in me and always said: “your physical limitations are obvious, but others have disabilities that are hidden”.
In 1967, following the Six Days War between Israel and neighbouring Egypt, Jordan and Syria, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank fled their homes. The number of Palestinian refugees in Jordan rose from 332,000 to 745,000. My family and I migrated to Kuwait, where I grew up.
My first day of school was full of challenges. It was a public school where I was the only disabled kid. However, I’m very grateful and appreciative of the support that was given to me by my teachers and classmates as they dealt with me as an equal, not paying attention to my disability.
During my teen age years, I started to become active in disability issues by joining the Kuwaiti Disability Club and started weightlifting and playing wheelchair basketball. Those made me feel that I was part of something. After graduating from high school I started looking for employment, but was uncertain about my prospects of landing a job.
At some point someone had enough belief in my potential and hired me. That someone was a Sudanese ex pat working in the Inter Arab Investment Guarantee Corporation based in Kuwait. Eight years later I decided to pursue my higher education in the USA. I went to East West University Chicago where I studied computer science; in the meantime, in 1991 the Golf War started and my family had to leave Kuwait back to Jordan, were we currently live.
From those days I remember working as a perfume street vendor and as a taxi driver. I learnt a lot from those experiences, but going to college from 8am until 3pm, and starting to work from 4pm until 4am was stressful and tiring. I felt that kind of life was not worth it, so I decided to complete my education and return to Jordan as soon as possible.
In Jordan, I worked for different companies until one day I joined the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) where I worked for 15 years. During that period I became one of the focal points to develop and review UNRWA Disability policy.
Afterwards, I was given the choice to go to Sudan and become a member of the UN Volunteers in UNAMID. I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer despite many folks discouraging me and telling me that it was not a good choice due to the hardship conditions. I refused to listen to the naysayers and I told them that I was willing and able! My whole life has been full of challenges and hardships, and so Darfur was no different.
Mohammed Sarhan at the Darfuri Disable Club in El Fasher.
I’m currently a UN Volunteer working with Communications and Information Technology Section (Human Resources) for UNAMID; nevertheless, as soon as I arrived to Darfur I realized that there was so much to do for this community and that I needed to start advocating also for the cause I have work on my whole life: disable persons.
I have always been passionate about volunteering. It all started with my family and the Mosque, helping anyone in our street who needed help. I guess is the way I was brought up, as many say. As I grow older, I realized that I get so much more out of volunteering than I could ever give, because it feels good; it makes you feel better about life and yourself.
And that is how one day, on my way to the market, I decided to approach a disable kid that I kept seeing crawling on the sand begging money from passers-by. That view was bothering me every time I saw him, and the scene stayed imprinted in my mind and I said to myself: “what should I do?”, so I started to ask around and found out about the Darfuri Disabled Club that open its doors every day from 12m until 5pm to people with three different types of disabilities: deaf, blind and physically disabled.
The first time I visited the club to my surprise I witnessed a very modest place but with a lot of potential. The club facilities manage to offer services such as social care, training and rehabilitation. But the thing that attracted me the most was the workshop. A very humble room, where despite the lack of appropriate tools and equipment, armed with a welding machine and a drill they adapt wheelchairs to be driven by hand using the bicycle system, and also some prosthetic limbs; the women do handmade crafts and the club feels like a small factory.
That visit increased my desire of working for the disable community in Darfur, and that is why I am actively working with the Club administration to raise awareness and funds to put together a project that aims to empower their activities in the workshop and in the rehabilitation clinic. This far we have had a good response; especially an offer from the Local Government to relocate the club’s installations. However, there is still a lot to be done for the club in order for it to offer the services that the Darfuri community needs and deserves.
I do what I can to spread the ideology of acceptance of the others. I believe “disability is the disadvantage that arises from barriers which impact people with impairments”. These barriers mean that disabled people are often excluded from society. We need to work hard to cease this exclusion and change the idea that disable people are less capable or efficient. We are as talented and gifted as you are.
By Mohammad Sarhan