— Nawaal Akram, comedian, model and disability rights campaigner on being named in BBC’s list of 100 inspirational women of 2017
Nawaal Akram, a 19-year-old Pakistani expatriate, has brought glory to Qatar and made her parents proud. Her resilience and perseverance in the face of odds saw her named in the BBC list of 100 most inspirational women of 2017.
The BBC list has this description of Nawaal: “Comedian, model and disability rights campaigner Nawaal Akram — founder of Muscular Dystrophy Middle East, and promotes rights for women with disabilities in the Middle East.”
She sat with Community for a chat recently, revealing an amazingly buoyant spirit which is infectious.
Nawaal says she didn’t expect the honour, but it gives her hope nevertheless that it may force a change in how society responds to special needs people.
“I never expected that I will be selected. The award is very close to my heart. It has given me a new hope. It has brought me in the mainstream media. I have been active on the social media, but scarcely saw people with disabilities very active on the social media”, Nawaal says at her residence with her mother, Saima Akram, and father, Muhammad Akram, by her side.
The wonder woman that she is, Nawaal believes her success would not have been possible without their support.
“My parents, especially my mom, did everything for me. I am also happy that I have made them happy. They are always worried about me as I am their only disabled child — the other five have no physical or mental issue. They will become more concerned after hearing comments from the community expressing doubts about my future. Now, I have made them famous and proud. They are very happy,” she says with a glint of pride.
“It was my mother, who, first learnt of the development. She woke me up and informed that I had been included in the list. They all were very happy. I see people hiding their special or disabled children. My parents allowed me to go out. They arranged home schooling for me when I could not get formal education at a regular school,” Nawaal recalls.
She says the journey was made easier because she lives in Qatar.
“I was born in Qatar and have spent all my life here. My parents hail from Pakistan, but Qatar is my home. Where opportunities for taking part in stand-up comedy events and fashion shows is concerned, I think it has been possible because I live in Qatar, a peaceful country. Though I faced bullying when I was a child, the situation got better and better here as I grew up and I began taking part in different events,” the BBC nominee observes.
She has bigger plans for the future. “The award has given me a new beginning. The recognition has been reinvigorating. I will continue working for the disabled, especially girls. In our society, disability has little acceptance. This acceptance almost diminishes for a disabled girl. I see disabled boys going out partying. They socialise and enjoy their time out. For girls, it is always difficult,” Nawaal says, rather matter-of-factly.
“I want to see poster advertisements with disabled girls as models for fashion and other industries. I am fed of up seeing images of people in a wheelchair in hospital and medicine commercials. I want to do modelling both in Qatar and Pakistan. I want to change the general perception about disability. I want to show that disabled people can also act as normal people and lead normal lives. I want the world to see us (portrayed) as normal human beings,” Nawaal says passionately.
She adds a touch philosophically: “People are visual creatures. They are more concerned with appearance and not with their inner world. So when they see a person with some disability, they only feel pity. I want to change that mindset.”
Yet, it could have been no easier for Nawaal’s parents to deal with the challenge of bringing her up — as her mother’s dedicated life proves.
“It was a shock for me when I learnt that my daughter will never be able to walk. I realised her problem when she was only two-and-a half-year-old. When she was 6, we had medical experts confirm to us that Nawaal will never be able to walk. It put a lot of stress on me. It also started hurting Nawaal as she grew up,” Saima Akram recalls.
“Something abnormal or different is stressful as long as you do not accept it. (But) once you accept it and start living with it, you eventually get rid of the stress. I never cared for what my relatives, the community, or society said about my daughter. I convinced her that she can do whatever she wants to,” a determined Saima says.
“I started paying extra attention to Nawaal because she was becoming more and more sensitive as she grew older. The worst came when she was dropped from school. I never wanted to send her to a special school. I resorted to home schooling, but she would insist on going out. I got her admitted to a yoga class and she also began learning to swim as it was good for her limbs. I go out with her wherever she wants to. I also learnt to drive for her. I always invite her friends to our house. With my other children becoming independent, I spend more and more time with Nawaal,” Saima says with deep affection.
Saima is delighted to see her progeny make a mark for the world to see.
“She has made us proud. My relatives, our community in Qatar and Nawaal’s friends are all very joyous for her. I also think about setting up an institute for children with different disabilities. I will continue working for my idea and one day, I may be able to have it up and running,” Saima vows.
Muhammad Akram, who has been doing business in Qatar for last 37 years, is very emotional about his daughter.
“Foremost, I wish her to be fully healthy and independent. As a father, I always want to see her doing normal things. But she has done wonders for us. Her feat has brought us recognition and pride. My differently-abled daughter has got extraordinary achievement,” Akram says flushed with excitement.
“I always encouraged Nawaal to do whatever she wanted to. I have restrictions for other children, but not her. She has made me proud. I will continue supporting my daughter for her future plans as well,” Akram concludes.
“People are visual creatures. They are more concerned with appearance and not with their inner world. So when they see a person with some disability, they only feel pity. I want to change that mindset”
“I want to do modelling both in
Qatar and Pakistan. I want to
change the general perception
about disability. I want to show that disabled people can also act as normal people and lead normal lives. I want the world to see us (portrayed) as normal human beings”