If your idea of a physically challenged person is someone begging on the streets think again. Rita Ofili might not be able to use her legs, but she has wheeled her way through the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions without taking any prisoners.
“My parents didn’t concern themselves with my disability. All they were concerned about was: ‘How do we make her somebody? How do we secure a future for her? How can we educate her?’ Her parents’ dilemma between showing love to their special child and giving her the independence she needed finally resulted in her beginning secondary school at age ten.
“I started quite late, but it did not really bug me. Throughout primary and secondary school, I was the only physically challenged person in my class.”
Things got a bit more complex when Rita finished her basic education. Her parents decided that she would go to a boarding student at Federal Government Girls’ College, Ibuzor in Delta state.
“When the principal of the school first found out about my challenge,” she said, “she wasn’t sure if she wanted to admit me into the school. She felt that I would not be able to cope. But my parents told her to give me a chance. She did. But it wasn’t easy at all. Sometimes, there would be a stampede either because my mates were running from seniors or a fictional bush baby, and I’ll be pushed out of my chair in the process. But I was able to scale through.”
After secondary school in 2001, Rita stayed at home for nearly five years before gaining admission into the higher institution.
“I wrote the then Unified Matriculation Examination, UME, about four times before I finally got admission into school. I began at the University of Lagos in 2006, and for the first time I was not the only physically challenged person in the entire school. I saw people who had challenges worse than mine. And I was inspired that if they could be in school pursuing their university degree, then I could do it too.”
Today, Rita is a graduate of Linguistics, African and Asian studies. Not only is she considering pursuing another degree, she is inspiring other physically challenged people to live up to their full potential through the Epaphata Hope Foundation which she founded and currently presides. She believes that there should be free education for persons with disabilities, and that the society as a whole should treat such people with love and care. When asked about her plans for the future, Rita laughs and replies:
“I know that other physically challenged people can identify with me. And I want to be an inspiration to them. I want them to look at me and say: ‘She’s just like me, if she can do this, so can I. I want to teach them to take pride in themselves. I want to be a role model to people all around the world, so that when they see me, they’ll know that disability doesn’t count; it’s what you bring out of it that matters.”