#WonderWoman - Challenges bring out the tough side of Divya Sharma, a visually impaired content writer
The world celebrates International Women's Day tomorrow. On NewzHook we will celebrate it through the month of March with our series #WonderWoman, where we bring you stories about women with disabilities who have surmounted some tough odds to transform not just their lives, but of people around them.
Fighter is an inadequate way to describe Divya Sharma. Born in Naya Nangal, a small town in Punjab, life started throwing curveballs at her when she less than five years old.
"I had glaucoma and I underwent six surgeries by the age of five", says Divya. "In the course of treatment, the infection spread, and my right retina was damaged. The lens had to be extracted and I was left with 20-25% vision".
It was a major setback, but family support kept Divya's spirits up. Her parents, Arun and Sushma Sharma and siblings rallied around, with twin sister, Kavya, emerging as a close confidante. Over the years, Kavya became the go to person in Divya's life for everything, from fashion to hair styles to make up. The twins would also go to school together and her sister's presence a great source of comfort and support for Divya.
My mother was a school teacher and until class 8 my sister and I went to the school where my mom was a teacher. Kavya was always with me and I would go and come back with her. Since I could not see clearly, I was left out of the regular games and sports, but my sister's presence never made me feel bad or alone, although people would compare us all the time, never realizing the struggles I was going through. - Divya Sharma, Content writer
Then came the second curveball when in class 8, Divya was told to leave school. The reason given? The school did not know "how to deal with such a child". This was a major setback and worse was to follow. Other schools in her hometown refused her admission because she was visually impaired.
"That was a big setback for me",remembers Divya, "because every morning, I would watch my siblings go to school, while I would stay back all day. My parents and siblings were encouraging and supportive of course but this was a dark period for me".
What didn't help were the hurtful comments made by extended family members and relatives. "I would hear things like she is fit for domestic work like sweeping or swabbing, nothing else. All this would be said within earshot".
When the going gets tough..
Divya's mother was determined not to let this come in the way of her daughter's desire for an education. She found out that Divya could take her exams in private and Divya sat for her class 10 exam with the help of a scribe. She scored 80%, a moment she calls a "game changing one".
"My class 10 results were the turning point. That made me determined to carve my own path. I decided to pursue my dreams to the extent possible, even if that meant leaving my hometown. I felt I had God was on my side."
Divya had also decided to embrace technology in a big way and learned how to use the screen reader. She did her graduation through correspondence, even translating her college books from Hindi to English. She pursued a masters in English Literature and learned Braille, typing, computers, English, even the guitar - all largely self-taught.
No wonder her twin calls her the strongest willed person she knows. "Her will power is what drives her continuously", says Kavya Sharma Kapuria. "She never gives up despite so many struggles in life. Her will has never left her."
Having overcome such incredible odds, Divya was determined to reach out to others. She is now a committed motivational speaker, who wants to change attitudes towards disability. Her motto is to catch them young.
"In 2015-16, I started going to schools to give motivational talks" says Divya. "I don't always call schools in advance because many people tend to say no thinking it's a charity case. But when people see me, they are more open to listening to the kind of issues I want to raise".
What does she talk to young people about, we ask Divya. "About my journey from a small town, Right to Education Act, and the rights of children with disabilities. I also inform them about the various technologies that are available for the blind".
Self-defense techniques also figure prominently in her talks, not surprising given her high degree of proficiency in karate. "Safety is a major concern for everyone, especially a person with a disability", she says. "I also teach karate to visually impaired people because I know the perspective from which they need to learn".
A content writer, Divya writes about issues close to her heart, disability being on the top of the list. She also loves to write poetry. "She is an extraordinary girl", says Tarun Kumar, Founder, Adroitors, a digital marketing company where Divya works. She is talented and punctual; her output is higher than anyone else working in the firm". Divya is also a core member of Radio Udaan, the online radio channel for people with disabilities.
Words like these are a great source of pride for Divya's mother and supporter-in-chief Sushma Sharma.
"I am so proud of Divya. She was always confident, and her attitude was to never give up. She has never backed down in the face of any challenge and has worked hard to get here.
Divya's extraordinary grit and contribution has been recognized by the Punjab government with a state award. She was also honoured with the NCPEDP-Mphasis Universal Award. This multi-faceted young woman truly cuts an inspiring figure.
Other stories in the #WonderWoman series: