‘Wonder girl’ reaches for the stars
Out of all the limbs in her body, only one arm is functional. And in that arm, only three out of four fingers work properly.
When Shahida Khatun was born this way to grocer Rafi Uddin and Johra Begum, their neighbours in Shimulia village of Jashore's Jhikargachha upazila, told Johra that the child was born this way because of the 'sins' Johra had committed.
While Shahida was growing up, the villagers and their children would not speak to her because she was 'good for nothing', reminisced a tearful Johra. "That was how Shahida spent her childhood!"
Now, 29 years later, Shahida holds a master's degree and the same neighbours come to her for study lessons or for advice on various other issues.
But ensuring proper education for a differently abled child like Shahida was quite difficult for her parents.
Her father Rafi Uddin said the agony he and his wife endured for their fourth child Shahida was unimaginable. Especially comments made by the villagers about Shahida were brutal.
Ignoring all the negativity, they took five-year-old Shahida to a missionary school, St Louis Primary School, in the area to get her admitted. But their efforts were faced by a major obstacle when most of the teachers at the school opposed her admission there.
The opposing teachers said since young Shahida cannot move about by herself, she would be a burden for the staffers of the school when she would need to use the restrooms during school hours.
Shahida was finally admitted to the school at the request of Sister Joseph Marie of the mission.
Since then, there was no turning back for Shahida. Rain or shine, she would make it to the school every day, riding on the laps of her parents or elder siblings.
Her perseverance and keen interest in getting educated eventually helped her win the hearts of teachers and neighbours alike.
In 2009, Shahida crossed her first big landmark by passing the Secondary School Certificate examinations from St Louis High School. She passed Higher Secondary Certificate exam from Shimulia Degree College three years later.
When she enrolled at Shahid Mashiur Rahman Degree College, six kilometres away from home, her father arranged a rickshaw-van for her commute at Tk 100 daily rent.
After securing the BA degree from there, Shahida went on to enrol herself in master's course at Jashore MM College. She earned her master's in political science from the college in 2016.
Shahida has proved her worth by passing all the major public examinations in the country. A befitting job at this stage would be the ultimate acknowledgement for her after long years of struggle, her father said.
Shahida's younger sister Nazma Khatun, an honours degree student, said she witnesses how much hardship her elder sister faces every day and she hopes that her sister's achievements would make her a role model for other differently abled children in the country.
But in order to portray that image to the society, she would have to earn a decent living from a job with prospect, she added.
Hoping to have the opportunity to explain her life struggle to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina someday, Shahida said for over eight months, she has been working in a teaching position at a school in Raghunathnagar.
"I need a job to make a living," but the future there is bleak because the school, Babar Ali Sardar Special Intelligent School, is not in the government's MPO (monthly payment order) list, she also said.