Born without arms and legs, Janis McDavid, a 25-year-old youth from Germany, spent a large part of his childhood convincing himself that he was like everyone else.
But at the age of eight, it suddenly dawned upon him that he was quite unlike his friends who could all walk on their feet and could do many tasks using their hands.
“It was shocking,” he said, adding it was right then that he decided to be himself. He started to find advantages instead of counting the cons.
Now a business economics student of University of Witten Herdecke, Janis is an inspiring personality who travels across the world to motivate and inspire thousands of people through motivational speeches.
Janis arrived in Bangladesh on Friday on a four-day visit at Unicef's invitation to deliver lectures to underprivileged children.
On Saturday, Janis visited a group of underprivileged children at Mirpur. They sang for him and showed some performances which he really enjoyed.
The Daily Star caught up with him afterwards at the Unicef office in the capital.
The blond German sat sipping coffee, leaning forwards till his lips touched the cup, refusing the use of a straw. For a certain period, Janis had made use of artificial limbs. But in his mind, he could never see them as anything other than accessories. “"I realised that was not the solution. Then I just started to accept what was given to me,” he said. At 16, he discarded the use of his artificial limbs.
Fiercely independent, Janis fashioned his car in a way so that he could drive on his own. An electric wheelchair further ensures that he can move without requiring assistance. “My parents wanted me to be independent,” he said.
Shifting focus on his childhood days, the German youth shared that when he was five, his “powerful” mother saw potential in him and thought he should go to a regular school instead of a special one.
At school, his mother even argued with teachers urging them to involve him in dance class.
When Janis had his epiphany and realised the full extent of his circumstances, his perception of life began to change. “It took me about eight years to be able to say I don't miss my arms and legs,” he recalled.
Now, when travelling around the world and even in his own community, he said most of the time he finds that people are astonished seeing the things he does without having arms and legs.
His immense drive stems from his desire to pursue new challenges.
He shared that when he told his parents about travelling to Bangladesh for motivational speeches, they were surprised.
However, while admiration has been plenty, Janis has also faced his fair-share of more apprehensive people.
At times, he noticed people feeling hesitant when coming in contact with him. But Janis negotiated such situations by starting conversations with light jokes. He never wanted his body to become a barrier to meeting new people.
“I want to live my life,” he said.
He believes everybody is gifted with unique abilities while it is the responsibility of teachers, parents and people around to find it.
One real condition Janis finds in him is restlessness. Thus, he cannot stay at home for more than four weeks, opting instead to travel and meet new people.
He has visited several countries and has given inspirational talks in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Europe. He was invited by a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka to motivate people there.
A self-taught motivational speaker, Janis said he gave 60 lectures last year.
When asked about his aspirations, taking another sip from his coffee mug, he said the funny thing about his life is that he never wanted to be a motivational speaker but somehow got engaged in it in 2013.
Over the subsequent years though, Janis fell in love with his job as people across the world enjoyed his speeches and the great feedback he got back made him realise the impact he could have on people. He has never looked back since.