The government’s “Singha Durbar” residence is wheelchair accessible today due to the campaign by Geeta Limbu and the Independent Living Center, the disability rights organisation where she works as a counselor and advocate.
“It’s difficult for people with a disability to survive in Nepal,” says Geeta, 32, who grew up in an SOS Children’ Village in Nepal. “There are so many obstacles. We have no job security, no allowance. We have nothing, but we can improve things.”
Making public buildings wheelchair accessible is one of the ways Geeta and the Independent Living Center (ILC) are improving the lives of Nepal’s estimated 500,000 disabled.
The center, based in the Kathmandu suburb of Lalitpur, supports parents of children with disabilities and advocates for legislation to promote and protect disabled people’s rights.
One successful campaign supported a personal assistant service. An amendment to a law will give more recognition to assistants who care for the disabled.
“Most disabled people in Nepal are cared for by their families or live in an institution, but we lobbied the government and said people with a disability can live an independent life in the society with the help of a personal assistant,” says Geeta.
ILC’s wants to make Lalitpur a model city for the disabled. Geeta and her team are working with the mayor to make footpaths and public transport wheelchair accessible.
Growing up in Jorpati
When Geeta was just two years old, she came to live at the SOS Children’ Village Jorpati, which specialises in caring for disabled children. Her spinal cord was injured during an earthquake in 1988, leaving her in a wheelchair. She does not know what happened to her parents.
“If I was not brought up at SOS, maybe I wouldn’t have survived, because I was a child with a severe disability,” says Geeta. “I wasn’t able to do anything for myself. My SOS mother loved me so much. She brought me up as if I were her own child.”
Geeta has fond memories of her time at Jorpati. “We celebrated so many festivals and had so much fun. Sometimes while playing we even fell out of our wheelchairs.”
“It was a good place for me to grow up. The SOS team provided us with a loving mother, brothers and sisters, and created a loving environment for us,” she says.
Geeta left the Jorpati Village at 16 and moved to an SOS Children’s Villages youth house. She decided to study at Kathmandu University, graduating with a degree in sociology. Like many young people, she faced challenges finding a job.
“At one point, I was very down. I thought I will not be able to do anything. My studies are worthless. I stopped going out,” she recalls.
An SOS youth counsellor supported Geeta’s job search and accompanied her to job interviews. Eventually she found a position at the Independent Living Center.
Fellow colleagues are impressed by Geeta’s motivation. “Geeta is a positive, self-confident and strong woman,” says Devu Parajuli, the Vice President of Nepal’s Disability Human Rights Promotion Society.
“Despite her disability, she has a career and is living an independent life. With her as a role model – for disabled and abled-bodied people - we can change society,” he says.
As for Geeta, she says she has one dream: “I want to see disabled people living freely as they wish, without obstacles.”
Read more about SOS Children's Village Jorpati